By Richard Menta 7/5/09
Sometimes, death is a boon for business. In the arts community this is a common occurance. A celebrated painter's work will skyrocket in value upon word of his or her demise, while the untimely passing of a movie star like Heath Ledger pumps up the box office for their last perfomance.
But once in a great while an artist dies and they carry an entire industry on their backs. We saw this happen with Elvis 32 years ago. We are seeing this happen with Michael Jackson, but at an even higher level fueled by a celebrity-obsessed press pressed against a more conflict-ridden star.
On Amazon and iTunes Michael Jackson's back catalog dominates the top 20 list. Jackson sold 2.6 million downloads the last week of June alone. This boom represents not only his post-adolescent output controlled by Sony Music, but the Jackson 5 era music held by Universal, which means at-least two major labels are enjoying this sales surge. The surge is expected to last for months, particularly since his cash-strapped family appears open to fanning the fan of celebrity to pay off the massive debt-load Jackson burdened himself with. The rabid demand for 17,500 free tickets to Michael Jackson's public memorial service and the circus-like atmosphere it is taking validates this thought.
Money is driving all of this, big money to be gained through leveraging fan grief. It's still a shock to me that a man of only 50 who can dance energetically through an entire concert perfomance just dropped dead of cardiac arrest. Now an industry witnessing year-after-year double-digital sales drops is enjoying a sharp sales spike.
The demise of Michael Jackson won't save the record industry, because the industry's problems stem from something much larger. That is a poor ability to evolve under the force of disruptive technology. His death is giving it a short-term reprieve though.
Michael Jackson Tops iTunes downloads
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