Adele’s album sold 3.4m last week. The classical #1 sold 493.

Adele’s album sold 3.4m last week. The classical #1 sold 493.


norman lebrecht

November 30, 2015

If ever statistics told the story, this is it.

The world cannot get enough of Adele. And it cannot run fast enough from classical records.

The week’s top US seller, according to Nielsen Soundscan, was the Yo Yo Ma 60th birthday album, with 493 sales in all formats. The next highest, Stile Antico, sold half as many (or as few).


yo yo ma chicago


  • Robert says:

    When an artist stays after the concert to sign copies of his CD, do those sales count toward these numbers?

    • Chris says:

      Yes, concert sales do count! The artist and/or venue just has to report the sales to SoundScan.

    • Joel V. says:

      At least in my country the sales are done by a local shop / distributor. So, in that case, yes.
      But even so – opera stars left aside – how many artists are selling more than 20 copies per concert ? Their true fans mostly already have their CDs.

      • Robert says:

        At the Dallas Symphony I see maybe 15-20-ish in the line to get signed CDs at concerts.

        But multiply that x 4 since there are four performances of the program.

        Still it’s not like 3.4 million.

      • John F says:

        And those recordings fans already own were counted in an earlier week.

  • Emil says:

    No, stats do not tell the whole story. How many CDs of comparable stature is Adele competing with? How many CDs of cello music is Yo-Yo Ma competing with?

    • cornelis hofmann says:

      the problem is – or at least one of the problems – that the production of classical cd-titles is too high: 24 releases of the 6 suites (Bach) in the last three years is absurd. From YoYo Ma till Schiff via Wispelwey et cetera.
      Example: BIS just releases another edition of the compete Beethoven-sonates by Brautigam. Beautiful but there are already 40 or 45 other Aufnahmen.
      And from Adele’s cd there is just one….

  • Peter Lovett says:

    I happened to be at a friend’s place the other day who was playing the latest from Adele. He wasn’t impressed with it either.

  • Kai Coebad says:

    “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain

    • Nate R says:

      As when you mindlessly repeat someone else’s words.
      Seriously, Adele is probably the best thing that’s going on in pop music right now and as a musician (mind you, classically trained) I’m glad that she is there doing what she is doing, because there is a tons of music a lot (and I mean A LOT) worse, but I don’t see you complaining about Justin Bieber making more sales than Perlman, you chose something actually very good and trash it instead to make your point.
      And secondly I think it’s ridiculous that classical musicians always complaining about pop/rock/whatever musicians making money when most of them are just machines for playing the music of others.
      You seriosly expect making millions on something that you didn’t even composed? How about go out there, make some music and put some effort into selling it, instead of writing 999999th whiny letter about our horrible society not being excited about hearing yet another rendition of the classical piece played by another classical musician for a 1000000th time? You know, there is always something new going on in art, in literature, but musicians, being performers, keep looking into past instead of doing something right now. Maybe this is something to reflect on?

      • Alvaro says:

        See norman, this is what I mean. Nate here is probably a young conservatory trained musician that will carry the torch of your community when you and your generation disappear.

        I 100% agree that there must be a renovation, most in my generation do, but what does that mean? 2 cellos? Piano Guys? Garret? (Vomiting) Igudesman & Joo?

        The breaking point is coming people. Listen to your beethoven and mozart while you can. 😉

      • Andrea Rose says:

        I include classical music in my purchases (also my brother is a professional French Horn player) over my 40+ years as an obsessive music buyer/collector (mostly vinyl). Very insightful; it never dawned on me that the bulk of classical recordings/performances are interpretations (or “covers”), not original compositions.

        • Alvaro says:

          Andrea = 1 person’s behavior does not make a market. Everybody has their own pet peeves. That does not mean these actions are true in the population.

          Any empirical evidence shows otherwise. They are covers, for the majority. If you like to buy 50 different versions of the Beethoven symphonies, go ahead.

          Now, to extrapolate that this behavior SHOULD be the rule like Norman does is 1) Sad, 2) Naïve and simply 3) Delusional.

  • voiceofpeason says:

    A contact in the business reports that a BBC Philharmonic concert on 21st November in Manchester featuring a drum kit concerto by Mark Anthony Turnage attracted just 200 paying customers. This in Britain’s second largest city.

    500 complimentaries were given away.

    Not all those given them turned up.

    Classical music’s attempts to win a new audience going well then.

  • Alvaro says:

    HEEELLO FROM THE OTHER SIIIIIDE, NORMAN! Its 2015, in case you forgot.

    Sadly Norman still lives in 1970, Ive tried a couple of times to reason w/him but…. Nielsen scans are all but obsolete measures of physical sales. Who amongst you buys CD’s in stores anymore? Adele and other high value pop acts have distribution channels that are much more extensive (Starbucks is selling her CD in the counter), + it doesnt say anything about downloads or streaming. Its stupid to think of the music industry in obsolete terms as physical sales. As an example, the “Horse carriage loving Norman” would say: “Ford sold 500000 cars last week, yet only 50 horses were sold. Surely horses will disappear”. No man, You go to central park or to dutch country Pennsylvania and you’ll get your horse ride. The problem is the arrogance in thinking that horses can be what they were before the invention of the Car. That aint happening any time soon, and classical artists and classical music will remain what they have always been: a small niche for pretentious people like the readers of this blog.

    • Robert says:

      Physical disc sales are still important because there’s far more financial return on it.

      The financial return on “streaming” just slightly better than giving it away.

  • Bill Carson says:

    Yo-Yo Ma has released 90+ albums, and Adele has released 3.

    At some point, I’ve got enough Yo-Yo Ma albums.

    • Alvaro says:


      According to Norman the WORLD should buy classical music and only that! Who cares if this is the 700000th release of the Bach suites – you are not cultured if you don’t buy this and instead fall victim of the pernicious evil of the mass media machine that sells you only crap (as nothing in pop can EVER have any hint of quality because it was not composed by Beethoven).

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    I have noted that over the past year or so Sony has released relatively inexpensive box sets of famous conductors of the past performing the mainstream repertory.
    For example, just for the Beethoven nine symphonies, Sony has recently released the following sets: Bohm with the Vienna Phil, Walter with the Columbia Symphony Orch. and Leinsdorf with the Boston Symphony (a very fine and almost forgotten set).
    The boxes come with no booklet or notes, alas. A missed opportunity to explain to a new audience why these performances are so well regarded.
    I wonder if there are any sales stats on these reissues?

  • RW2013 says:

    Just listened to Adele for the first and last time.

  • Mark says:

    Does this arbitrary comparison really mean anything? Classical music buyers don’t rush all at once to buy the very latest sensation, as fans of pop music do. They buy whatever individual record they want whenever they want to. Are there many more fans of pop music than classical? I think we knew that.
    On the other hand, Adele’s sales success seems to suggest that there’s some life left in the recording industry after all. That’s not really a bad thing.

  • Nick says:

    I love some of the comments here! You cannot – at least since the pop boom in the second half of the last century – draw any comparison between sales of pop and classical music. To try to do so is utterly pointless!

    But at least credit should be given where it is due. Naxos started selling in supermarkets and other non traditional outlets decades ago soon after it started up. With original digital recordings at about a third of the price charged by the majors, quite a number of its CDs sold well over 100,000 copies – some even over a million. Now Naxos leads the field in digital streaming and the majors that are left are struggling to survive.

    As for Adele, good on her. She has controlled the distribution of her new album, permitting only the title track to be downloaded. That forces fans to buy her CD. I cannot recall any TV talk show where either she has not appeared to plug the album or it has been played. She will further plug it with tour dates early next year. The marketing campaign has been massive. How many appearances did Yo-Yo Ma make to plug his? I don’t recall any!

    In this day and age, merely issuing an album is all but a waste of time and effort.

    • Nick says:

      Apologies! In the penultimate line of my earlier post, “album” should be qualified to read “classical album”.

  • herrera says:

    Imagine an album called Jessye Norman sings Adele, or Netrebko sings Adele….

    Imagine an album called Adele sings Ella Fitzgerald, or Adele sings Aretha Franklin…

    You get the point, if an entire industry (classical music) does nothing but fronts other artists (or dead composers), of course no one is going to buy your stuff.

    Music lovers are not idiots. They want original stuff.

  • Stweart says:

    No connection between quality and quantity ! Otherwise we would probably all be watching X Factor , I’m A Celeb……….. etc
    Nail the lid down if I ever do !

  • Howard says:

    Sales figures are not the only measure of success in real music. I am sure Mr Ma is not the slightest bit perturbed by this: after all, Yo Yo is used to life’s ups and downs!

  • David says:

    Adele is more popular than Yo Yo Ma right now. Next story.

  • Horst Klotzmann says:

    …at least there is some cello on Adeles track #8…..;-))