The best selling albums of the 2010s

All hail Adele

David Burgess
4 min readNov 8, 2019

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In my last few stories, I looked at critics’ and fans’ favorite albums of the 2010s and then combined the two to generate the definitive list of the best albums of the 2010s. Missing from those lists are mega-selling artists like Adele, Ed Sheeran, and streaming colossus Drake. In this story, I shift focus to sales.

In the information age, it is surprisingly hard to get good data on global music sales. That’s the result of geographic and format fragmentation. It is relatively easy to get sales data for the US market, but the two globally biggest selling artists of the decade are UK based. Then there is the challenge of combining physical sales (yes, that is still a thing), digital downloads (also still a thing, although more so earlier in the decade), and streaming.

For this story, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Guillaume Vieira and his team at Chartmasters. They may be even more obsessive than me when it comes to data analysis and the music industry. For over four years they have been assembling the jigsaw puzzle of sales data, artist by artist, format by format. I sourced the sales data for this story from their site. Sales figures are for album equivalents. That means that downloads and streams are weighted to give an equivalent number of physical album sales. The laborious process required to assemble the data for each artist means this is not real-time data. In some cases, it may be up to eighteen months old. That’s why I am listing sales numbers for only the top 20 albums. The absolute figures may be out slightly — but the big picture and relativities will hold. The top 100 is included at the end of this story.

Top 20 best selling albums released in the 2010s

If you want to start a lively argument with an American, ask him/her who the biggest selling female artist of the 2010s is. When they say, “Taylor Swift”, scoff and tell them she doesn’t come close to Adele.

There are a couple of recent releases that have a good chance of making it into the top 20, based on reviews and early sales. I expect that if this analysis is repeated in a couple of years, Lover by Taylor Swift and Norman Fucking Rockwell! by Lana…

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David Burgess

Father, bass player, music and film geek, nature lover. Advocate, educator, consultant for business as a force for good.