Michael Jackson Fails to Outperform Living Artists, For Once

Michael Jackson’s album landed at No. 3, which is not bad for someone who’s dead.

There aren’t many living musicians who’d be disappointed with opening week album sales of nearly a quarter of a million units and a No. 3 spot on the Billboard chart. Of the artists who’ve passed on to another world, there’s probably just one for whom such a performance would be a letdown: Michael Jackson.

The King of Pop’s posthumous Michael moved 228,000 copies in the U.S. its first week, trailing only No. 2 Susan Boyle’s The Gift and No. 1 Taylor Swift’s Speak Now, which sold 254,000 and 259,000 copies, respectively. Those numbers are certainly respectable, especially considering that Jackson’s work always tends to sell well overseas, but they’re well short of last year’s This Is It soundtrack, which sold 373,000 copies in its first week despite having only one unreleased song.

For a change, Michael Jackson has failed to surpass all his living peers from beyond the grave. Over the past year Jackson earned $275 million — more than any other entertainer, and more than Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Madonna and Jay-Z combined. And his latest effort sits behind Swift’s and Boyle’s on the charts, the new album’s performance is better than many industry insiders expected.

Despite the controversy surrounding the album, Jackson’s long-term earnings prospects are looking better than ever. Michael was the first of many albums of new material scheduled to be released over the next seven years as part of the Jackson estate’s deal with Sony Music, which should bring in $200 million to $250 million over the course of the contract.

Jackson’s estate also received a $60 million advance for last year’s film This Is It; sales of a Jackson-themed videogame, memorabilia and a re-released autobiography brought in an additional $50 million. The estate still owns the rights to Jackson’s music, which took in nearly $50 million on heavy radio play and album sales over the past year and should continue to throw off cash.

And then there’s the Jackson estate’s 50% interest in the Sony/ATV catalog, which contains half a million songs including titles by Elvis Presley, Eminem, Bob Dylan, Beyoncé, and most significantly, The Beatles. Insiders estimate the catalog generates $50 million to $100 million per year, giving it a total value in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion. That means an annual $25 million to $50 million for the estate’s coffers, on top of the considerable sums coming from Jackson’s own music and merchandise.

Even after earning the bronze medal in last week’s album sales derby, the King of Pop’s postmortem reign seems secure.

By: ZACK O’MALLEY GREENBURG (Forbes)

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