Adele’s 25 and Drake’s Views are the most popular albums of 2016. But which came out on top? That’s a surprisingly complicated question. Adele’s 25 has sold more copies than any other album this year, though Views pulls ahead if you factor in digital track sales and streaming activity — what the music industry calls “equivalent units.”
Prince and David Bowie, who died earlier this year, both rank high on the year’s best-selling albums chart. Prince is the only artist with two of the year’s top 20 albums. The Very Best of Prince ranks No. 7. The Purple Rain soundtrack, which was released 32 years ago, ranks No. 13. Bowie’s final studio album, Blackstar, ranks No. 14. The album was released just two days before Bowie’s death in January.
Pentatonix’s A Pentatonix Christmas ranks No. 8 for the year. This is the sixth time in the past 10 years that a Christmas album has appeared in the year’s top 10. By contrast, in the preceding 16 years (1991-2006), only one Christmas album appeared in the year-end top 10. Explanation: Though album sales in general have fallen off in the past decade, holiday albums have held their own — and thus are becoming more important on the list relative to all other albums released.
In 2016, for the first time since Nielsen Music began tracking music sales in 1991, not one album sold 2 million copies (in traditional album sales).
Here are the 15 best-selling albums so far in 2016, in terms of traditional album sales, according to Nielsen Music. At the end of each entry, I indicate the album’s rank on the year’s Track Equivalent Albums (TEA) chart. That chart factors in sales of digital tracks from the album.