The first blockbuster album of 2017 has arrived, and it is Ed Sheeran’s “÷” (pronounced “divide”). A hit around the world, it has become the latest example of the streaming revolution in music, smashing Spotify’s record for the most streams in a single week with 375 million globally (beating the Weeknd’s 223 million, set four months ago).
Streaming also let Mr. Sheeran dominate the British singles chart in a way that became possible only through a change in December that for the first time allowed streams to contribute to chart positions there. Helped by that rule change, Mr. Sheeran has nine songs in the current British Top 10, while 16 songs — every track on the new album — are in the Top 20. (Seeing absurdity in that outcome, some industry observers took the opportunity to criticize the new system. “If there was ever a sign that streaming is breaking the charts then this is it,” the digital media analyst Mark Mulligan wrote on his blog.)
But in the United States, the performance of “÷” as a download and even as a physical album on CD is a sign that in this moment of transition for the music industry, the old formats are not dead yet. The album, released by Atlantic, had 135 million streams in this country, according to Nielsen — a very strong number, but far less than recent albums by J. Cole (177 million) and the Weeknd (175 million) totaled in their opening weeks late last year. Mr. Sheeran also sold 322,000 copies of “÷” as a full album — about 29 percent of them in physical formats — contributing to its total “album equivalent” sales number of 451,000.
Also this week, Metallica’s “Hardwired … to Self-Destruct” (Blackened) jumped 12 spots to No. 2, thanks largely to a sales bundle of the album with tickets to the band’s new tour. Bruno Mars’s…