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Adele's new album may break 'impossible' sales record

For Adele fans, it’s been a torturous four-year wait for new music. But the wait is finally over. The British sensation’s latest album, “25,” releases online and in stores Friday, November 20th. If you’re wondering who still buys physical CDs, you might be surprised to learn that the balance between physical and digital music sales, while shifting, still heavily favors CDs.

Even in that context, Columbia Records will ship 3.6 million physical copies of “25,” according to Billboard. That is a staggering number by current industry standards. It will be the most CDs shipped for a new release since the 4.2 million copies of *NSYNC’s “No Strings Attached” in 2000. To put that in some perspective, iTunes didn’t even exist in 2000. (It was released on January 9, 2001.)

If “25” lives up to the hype, it could break first-week sales records. That’s a feat many industry watchers thought would never happen again, thanks to a precipitous decline in music sales since digital began taking over.

Total album sales, including CD, cassettes, vinyl and digital, were down 11% in 2014 compared to 2013, according to Nielsen.

If Adele reaches the targets executives at Sony Music expect, she could break *NSYNC’s first-week record of 2.4 million albums sold in its first week in March of 2000. Sony expects sales of 1.5 million physical CDs in the first week and Apple digital sales of 900,000. That would put her dangerously close to *NSYNC’s record of 2.5 million for “No Strings Attached.”

So why, after all these years, is this album the one drawing so much hype?

For one, Adele’s last album, “21,” was a smash, raking in more than $11 million in sales, according to Billboard.

That thirst for new music from Adele drove impressive sales for the first single off the new album. “Hello” debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, selling 1.1 million digital copies, which obliterated the previous record held by Flo Rida’s “Right Round” and its 650,000 copies sold.

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For another, Adele has a loyal and dedicated international fan base. Her previous album topped the charts in more than 30 countries, selling 30 million copies worldwide and becoming the top Billboard 200 album of all time, which is based on chart position and puts “21” ahead of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller."

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