Why Michael Jackson is Worth More Dead than he Was Alive

The estate of Michael Jackson have reportedly signed a deal worth at least $250 million with Sony Music.  It might seem like a lot of money (heck, it is a lot of money) but this isn’t the crazy gamble on yesteryear that it might at first appear:

 

  • Back-catalogue exploitation is a safe bet. In an age when record labels are seeing revenues plummet (see my previous post) back catalogue is a comparatively safe bet.  Not just because established artists are by definition proven, but also because their core fan bases date back to the CD age…they’re some of the few people still actually buying music.  Michael Jackson outsold any other artist in the US last year, alive or otherwise. The market potential is actual not just hypothetical.
  • This isn’t just about music. With CD sales plummeting and downloads stuttering, everyone knows that revenue opportunities go far beyond the sale of audio tracks. The ‘This is It’ movie gives a glimpse of how the Jackson brand will be built across multiple media and platforms.  How long before a Michael Jackson xBox game? An iPhone app? Official TV series? You get the idea.
  • The time is right for a new dead artist. The music world loves dead artists: Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, John Lennon…the list is virtually endless.  If Elvis was the standout dead artist of the 20th century, then Michael Jackson could be the dead artist of the 21st. Marketing a dead artist is not just about monetizing the existing fan base, it’s also about reinventing the artist for a new generation of fans. The further back in time that artist is from the harder it is to achieve relevancy.  The grainy black and white footage of ‘Jail House Rock’ is light years away from the reference points of a 12 year old music fan in 2010.  ‘Thriller’ on the other hand was the source of influence for many of today’s artists.

 

It is a sad fact that in revenue terms Michael Jackson is worth more dead than he was alive.