Why Streaming Doesn’t Really Matter For Adele

The outstanding success of Adele’s single ‘Hello’ has stoked up the already eager debate around whether Adele’s forthcoming ‘25’ album is going to be a success.  Indeed some are asking whether it is going to ‘save the industry’. One of the aspects that is getting a lot of attention is whether the album is going to be held back from some or all of the streaming services.  The parallels with Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’ are clear, especially because both Swift and Adele are strong album artists, which is an increasingly rare commodity these days. But the similarities do not go much further.  In fact the two artists have dramatically different audience profiles which is why streaming plays a very different role for Adele than it does for Swift.

Lapsed Music Buyers Were Key To the Success Of ‘21’

Adele’s ’21’ was a stand out success, selling 30 million copies globally.  Core to ‘21’s commercial success was that the album touched so many people and in doing so pulled lapsed and infrequent music buyers out of the woodwork.  The question is whether the feat can be repeated? In many respects it looks a tall ask.  We’re 4 years on since the launch of ‘21’ and the music world has changed.  Music sales revenue (downloads and CDs) have fallen by a quarter while streaming revenues have tripled.  And the problem with pulling lapsed and infrequent buyers out of the woodwork is that they have receded even further 4 years on.  In fact a chunk of them are gone for good as buyers.

buyer streamer overlap

But beneath the headline numbers the picture is more nuanced (see graphic).  Looking at mid-year 2015 consumer data from the US we can see that music buyers (i.e. CD buyers and download buyers) are still a largely distinct group from free streamers (excluding YouTube).  While this may seem counter intuitive it is in fact evidence of the twin speed music consumer landscape that is emerging.  This is why ‘Hello’ was both a streaming success (the 2nd fastest Vevo video to reach 100m views) and a sales success (the first ever song to sell a million downloads in one week in the US).  These are two largely distinct groups of consumers.

Streaming A Non-Issue?

As a reader of this blog you probably live much or most of your music life digitally, but for vast swathes of the population, including many music buyers, this is simply not the case.  Given that the mainstream audience was so key to ‘21’s success we can make a sensible assumption that many of these will also fall into the 27% of consumers that buy music but do not stream.  The implication is thus that being on streaming really is not that big of a deal for ‘25’ one way or the other.  Whereas Taylor Swift’s audience is young and streams avidly, Adele’s is not.  That is not to say there aren’t young Adele fans, of course there are, but they are a far smaller portion of Adele’s fan base than Swift’s.

60% of 16-24 year olds stream while just 20% buy CDs.  Compare that to 40-50 year olds where 34% stream and 43% buy CDs.  These are dramatically different audiences which require dramatically different strategies.  Audio streaming is unlikely to be a major factor either way for Adele, neither in terms of lost sales nor revenue.  Unless of course she ‘does a Jazy-Z‘ or ‘does a U2’ and takes a big fat cheque from Apple to appear exclusively on Apple Music.  But I’d like to think she’d like to think she’d have the confidence of earning sales the real way.

The Importance Of The Digitally Engaged Super Fan

What unites Swift and Adele is that they are both mass market album artists and as such are something of a historical anomaly.  Swift bucked the trend by making an album targeted at Digital Natives shift more than 8 million units.  Adele will likely also buck the trend.  But paradoxically, considering the above data, in some ways it will be a harder task for Adele.  Swift has a very tightly defined, super engaged fan base that identifies itself with her.  Adele’s fanbase is more amorphous and pragmatic.  You don’t get ‘Adelle-ettes’.  Swift was able to mobilise her fanbase into music buying action like a presidential candidate with a passionate grassroots following and big donors.  The importance of digitally engaged super fans is the secret sauce of success for digital era creators.  It is the exact same dynamic that ensured UK YouTuber Joe Sugg was able to leverage his fanbase to give his debut book ‘Codename Evie’ the biggest 1st week sales for graphic novel EVER in the UK this year.

If Adele and her team do pull off a sales success with ‘25’ they will owe a debt of gratitude to that 27% of consumers.  While the odds are against it being quite as big as ‘21’ (simply because the market is smaller) it still has every chance of being a milestone event that will out perform everything else.  But do not mistake that for this being ‘Adele saves the music industry’.  Album sales are declining.  Success from Taylor Swift and Adele are (welcome) throwbacks and they are most certainly not a glimpse into the future.

11 thoughts on “Why Streaming Doesn’t Really Matter For Adele

  1. For me there is a single and hugely refreshing positive here. Although they have both used primetime TV commercials or PAs to advance interest in their work neither Adele nor Taylor are the product of a success on a TV talent show.

    By careful management, strong A&R and the prodigious use great songwriters and producers both have achieved sustained positions with loyal fans and healthy careers with a lot of upside.

    A new ColdPlay album due in mid December falls into the same category making the market a little more interesting even if its a question of re-engaging the lapsed buyer.

    No one in the music business is fooling themselves into believing these releases are The Answers but whilst the real challenge is to engage the Youth with a viable alternative to game culture – making youth orientated music more interesting again – success for these artists will bolster the war chests of their releasing recording companies who must then be encouraged to challenge for this new ground.

  2. This makes total sense to
    me and something I’ve been writing about for sometime. We have different audiences with different demands, somthing tech fails to acknowledge or I their arrogance just believes they can crush.

    Streaming’s Ek and Parker pissed many of us off by actively and repeatedly proclaimed that streaming was going to eliminate recorded music sales. Not only is that statement false, at least in my lifetime, it hurts artists.

    Many of us resent Spotify and others, because they don’t understand the music business and therefore don’t understand the damage their doing.

    On top of everything, interactive music streaming is not turning out to be a viable vehicle for discovery. A handful of top artists are enjoying huge fame and financial success, everyone else is falling off a cliff.

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  5. I would disagree with the headline as I feel streaming does matter for Adele. She has 20m monthly listeners on Spotify. Artist’s will make 10% – 15% of their income from record sales and publishing. If Adele is to tour, playing live will be where she makes the lion’s share of her income (tickets + merch).

    Regardless, streaming revenue (like YouTube) matters. And it’s hard to ignore this type of revenue when Adele has over 100m youtube views of her latest single, and 5m daily listens on Spotify.

    From experience, the statement “The importance of digitally engaged super fans is the secret sauce of success for digital era creators” is 100% accurate. And it will be for Adele as much as any artist.

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