Adele 21In the past few months, there has been hardly any doubt that Adele’s sophomore album 21 would be the best-selling album of the year, but as the year closes, the sales numbers are turning out to be even higher than some analysts expected. While the album can’t be claimed as a savior for the continually struggling record industry, it has certainly helped it out this year.

For example, since the album, which was released in January 2011, has now sold 5.68 million copies, it is the first to sell over five million units since 2004. Usher claimed the last album to sell over five million copies – his record Confessions moved 7.9 million units. And in the week leading up to Christmas, sales of 21 soared again, with 399,000 copies sold. Not only is that number up 44 percent from the previous week, it marks the best-selling week for the album yet, even topping the 352,000 copies it sold its debut week 44 weeks ago.

Billboard magazine reports that the high sales this week make 21 only the 14th album since 1991 to have at least 100,000 sales in at least 30 weeks. 1991 is used as the marker since that is when Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales. The 30 weeks at 100,000-plus were not consecutive, but the worst sales week Adele had with 21 was the week of August 20 when the album sold 76,000 copies. The streak puts 21 in the company of such albums as Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette, Cracked Rear View by Hootie and the Blowfish and the aforementioned Confessions by Usher, which racked up 33 weeks with over 100,000 sales. Many of the 14 albums on the list have gone on to become some of the best-selling albums of all time.

But this news isn’t all just about Adele. Though she’s at the top of the pack, the entire music industry looks to be breathing a (slight) sigh of relief this year. Overall music sales are expected to be up three percent for 2011. Probably not coincidentally, the last time music sales were up that much was also in 2004. Additionally, though a one percent drop in digital downloads in 2010 worried a record industry continually concerned about illegal downloads, those digital sales were up nearly ten percent in 2011. One of the forces behind that number was Lady Gaga. announced a special during the first week of sales for Lady Gaga’s second album, Born This Way, that would charge customer’s only 99 cents for the entire album when they purchased it on the site. The price was only good for two days, but during that time 443,000 copies were sold at the discounted price. The sales boost prompted Billboard to amend the rules on how album sales factored into Billboard chart placement.

Last year was also good to Michael Buble, who will likely have the second best-selling album in the country. Though it wasn’t released until October (21 was released in January), his Christmas album has already racked up 2.43 million sales with one more week to go. Of course, being a holiday album, it’s unlikely Christmas will reach the 30-weeks of 100,000-plus mark Adele achieved, though she may not be done yet. The third single from 21, finally reached the top 10 of the Billboard Top 100 singles chart last week.