By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Taylor Swift and Adele may have boycotted streaming platforms when releasing their latest albums, but rapper Kanye West proved the power of online consumption as "The Life of Pablo" debuted at the top of the U.S. Billboard 200 album chart on the strength of streaming numbers.
"The Life of Pablo," West's seventh studio album and his seventh No. 1 record on Billboard 200, sold 28,000 physical albums and was streamed 99 million times in the U.S., accounting for 66,000 album units, according to figures from Nielsen SoundScan. The chart equates 1,500 streams as one album unit.
West first released "Pablo" on premium streaming service Tidal in February, which offered new subscribers a free trial before paying between $9.99 and $19.99 a month.
The rapper kept tweaking tracks and titles before making "Pablo" available on platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify last week. Spotify said "Pablo" was streamed 50 million times in the U.S. last week, accounting for half of the overall streams.
It is also available to purchase for $20 via West's own website.
West's success follows that of R&B singer Rihanna, whose "Anti" album topped the Billboard 200 chart in March with 17,000 physical album sales and 36 million streams, which accounted for 24,000 album units.
Rihanna released "Anti" exclusively on Tidal in February before making it available on other streaming platforms.
The commercial value of streaming has been questioned by artists such as pop singer Swift, who withheld her "1989" album from streaming platforms in 2014, saying music should be paid for. "1989" became one of the top-selling records last year.
Swift made "1989" available on Apple Music last year, but only after the tech giant bowed to pressure from her demanding that artists be paid during free trial periods for online music streaming services.
British singer Adele withheld her "25" album from streaming platforms last November, opting to make it available for purchase only. The album broke opening week sales records with 3.48 million copies sold in the U.S., and has clocked 4.9 million units in sales since its release.
But artists such as One Direction and Justin Bieber still rely on streaming numbers, and both broke Spotify records last year for most-streamed albums in a week.
West's "Pablo" came in ahead of country artist Chris Stapleton's Grammy-winning "Traveller" album, which climbed from No. 8 to No. 2 this week with sales of 73,000 units, comprising 59,000 physical copies sold and 5 million streams.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Alan Crosby)