Justin Bieber's new album "Believe," the Canadian-born teen's third, sold 374,000 copies in the week after its June 15 release, solidly the top-seller, according to Nielsen SoundScan. By almost any measure, it was a fantastic first week. "Believe" narrowly beat the first week sales for Madonna's "MDNA" to become the biggest debut so far in 2012. It sold 160,000 copies more than Bieber's last album, "Under The Mistletoe," in its first week, and nearly twice as many the second-biggest seller of the week, "Welcome to the Fishbowl" by Kenny Chesney.
"This is a great debut. It's a really good number," said David Bakula, an analyst at SoundScan. "You look at some of the other things that have come out this year, between Madonna, Usher, Van Halen and these other big names that haven't been able to do this much -- and it puts things in perspective."
There's just one small problem. The sales are not quite as high as some had predicted immediately before and after the release of the album. Billboard's Keith Caulfield projected first-week sales of 400,000 to 500,000. The high end of that projection would have been a truly impressive number -- it would have put 18-year-old Bieber in the heavy-hitting ranks of artists who include Drake and Taylor Swift.
The fact that he didn't make it there led some to say that the album had underperformed.
Bakula described that theory as overstatement, but admitted Bieber isn't yet the top dog when it comes to total sales.
"Bieber's fan base just isn't that million first week sales machine like Lady Gaga's was with her last last album," Bakula explained. "At the same time, it's significantly higher than what his last album sold its first week. We're talking about someone who has a growing fan base this far into your career, which is great."
Moreover, sales of singles from the album have been unusually high -- nearly 3.5 million so far.
In the end, though, the fact that "Believe" is the biggest debut so far of this year may say as much about the state of the music industry as it does about the artist. Overall revenue from recorded music in the U.S. declined nearly 40 percent from 2007 to 2011, according to a recent PwC report.
Plus, Bieber's reign at the top of the chart isn't likely to last long. Bakula said that albums released in the holiday season -- including Drake's "Take Care," which sold 631,000 copies the week after its Nov. 15, 2011, release -- almost always do better than those released earlier in the year.