The artist’s choice on whether to stream her new album will reflect the music industry’s larger debate over how fully to embrace the format.
For Adele’s millions of fans, perhaps the biggest question about her next album is whether its songs will pack the same emotional wallop that helped make her last one a global smash.
Behind the scenes, music executives are awaiting another detail: Whether Adele will make her new songs available on streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music or withhold them for a time to propel album sales. With two weeks left before the scheduled release of the album, “25,” streaming services are awaiting the final word.
Adele’s choice will reflect the music industry’s larger debate over how fully to embrace the streaming format. Elite artists such as Adele, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé sell millions of albums on CD or via downloads, and by streaming their new songs immediately, they risk sacrificing those lucrative sales.
Through their success, these three women have also accumulated a rare level of power in the industry, allowing them to take risks over how their music is released and consumed, and the rest of the business has taken notice.
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“If Adele decides to not have her music on streaming for a certain period of time, that is going to send a strong signal to other artists,” said Casey Rae, chief executive of the Future of Music Coalition, an artists-advocacy group. “In reality, not all artists are able to make those same choices.”
With her last album, “21,” released in early 2011, Adele scored the kind of blockbuster success the industry had all but written off as extinct. It sold about 30 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most popular releases in decades; in the United States, most of its 11 million sales were on CD.
But the landscape has changed in the industry. In the past decade, CD sales have declined by 80 percent, while streaming — which not long ago contributed a negligible sum — makes up 32 percent of the annual revenue of record labels, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
Adele’s new album, scheduled for release Nov. 20, looks poised to be another giant hit. Its first single, “Hello,” featuring Adele’s powerful voice over spare piano chords, broke download and video-streaming records last month.
A TV blitz is expected from NBC in coming weeks, including a concert special and an appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” Music executives widely predict the album could sell more than 1 million copies in its first week.
“Everything on Top 40 radio now sounds alike, but this is a phenomenon,” said Lenny Beer, editor of Hits, an industry news and gossip magazine.
Adele’s position on streaming is unclear. When “21” came out, downloads were still an ascendant format and Spotify had not arrived in the United States. (Like other artists at the time, she withheld her album from Spotify for months, a move that has gradually gone out of fashion.)
Now, Spotify is just one of an array of streaming outlets that includes Apple, Google, Rdio and Amazon.
Adele is said to be involved in deciding whether and how her music should be streamed, an unusual level of involvement for a major star in such a granular business issue.
Representatives for Adele, Spotify and Apple declined to comment for this article.
Streaming’s ability to pay fair wages to artists remains in dispute. Last year, Swift removed her catalog from Spotify because the service, which has free and paid versions, would not restrict her music to the paid level. “It’s my opinion that music should not be free,” Swift wrote in The Wall Street Journal a few months before the dispute.
Fellow artists cheered Swift on for taking a stand and for later challenging Apple over its plan to not pay royalties during trials of its new streaming outlet, Apple Music. She persuaded Apple to change course, but her music is still not on Spotify.
In contrast, Adele has not used her popularity as a vehicle for activism on behalf of artists’ rights. And music executives say that for the vast majority of acts, streaming remains an essential form of promotion.
“Spotify and others like it have become the new radio play,” said Jim Griffin, a digital-media entrepreneur and former record executive. “In a very real way, not being on Spotify is like not being on the radio 10 years ago, and that’s a problem.”
Executives briefed on the plans for Adele’s release said streaming services had been given no clear indications about whether, or when, the album would become available on those outlets.
“Hello” was widely available for streaming, but that may have been a test. One likely scenario, the executives said, was that the album could be withheld from streaming outlets for a week or more to maximize its CD and download sales.
For artists like Adele, CD sales remain a major source of income, and the stores that sell her music are an important promotional partner. Target will sell a deluxe version of the album with three extra songs, an arrangement similar to one it had last year for Swift’s “1989.”
A big-selling album is important for smaller brick-and-mortar shops too, like Newbury Comics, a chain in New England where Adele’s last album, “21,” was the biggest seller in 10 years or more, said Carl Mello, the store’s senior buyer. But one hit is just one hit, and album sales are down 5 percent for the year, according to Nielsen.
“I don’t think that one release,” Mello said, “would ever solve the problems of the music business.”
Even if Adele were to release “25” on streaming services immediately, some analysts believe her appeal may simply be so broad that she can still count on enormous sales. She has amassed an audience that crosses virtually all demographic barriers, appealing to teenagers, their parents and maybe even their grandparents.