Jul 20, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

UPDATED: How many CDs has Michael Jackson sold since he died?

mj-number-ones.jpgI’ve been reading all the stories and I can’t figure it out.

The LAT says he’s sold nine million around the world since his death. The Jackson operation, leaking to a hometown newspaper, has always used the world figures whenever the national one aren’t that hot, but let’s take it at face value. Next question: How many CDs, how many digital albums? How many digital tracks?

The story doesn’t say, doesn’t say, and doesn’t say.

Of U.S. sales, the story says this:

Nielsen SoundScan said Jackson’s albums sold 1.1 million copies over the last seven days and had combined to sell an impressive 2.3 million in the U.S. in the nearly three weeks since he died.

Meanwhile, the NYT reports similarly that he sold 1.1 million copies of his solo albums, but then says:

Almost 1.9 million tracks, separate from albums, were sold as digital downloads.

That makes it sound as if he sold another 200,000 albums’ worth digitally.

The sales aren’t insignificant, and I don’t mean to be cranky, but I don’t see them as particularly strong. Boy bands used to sell a lot more than a million albums in a week, though sales overall are a lot lower these days, of course. Finally, a crank will of course note that about half the sales are of two latter-day greatest-hits repackagings, Essential and (the hyperbolically titled) Number Ones.

Now, read Billboard closely, and you can see that Jackson sold 1.1 million for the week total, physical and digital album equivalents. The story says he sold 400,000 copies in the chart half-week immediately after his death, and then 800,000 last week, with a total since his death, three weeks ago, of about 2.3 million. Digital sales were high last week because retailers ran out of physical product. Now they are back in the pipeline.

For the nine million figure to be correct, Jackson would have to be selling almost four times as many CDs around the world as he is at home, a rate that, as we have seen, would far exceed his previous sales patterns.

Update: After nosing around, and checking in with worldwide sales expert Guillaume Vieira, I think it’s fair to say that Jackson has sold about seven million total worldwide in the weeks since his death. Vieira said specifically that the nine million figure is pieces shipped. In other words, the LAT—whose trumpeting of nine million sold was attributed to “a source”—was carrying Sony’s water.

Jul 18, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

The Pepsi commercial accident: How his addictions began?

Us Magazine got an exclusive copy of footage shot the day Michael Jackson’s hair caught fire on the set of a Pepsi commercial he was filming with his brothers in 1984. The magazine says that the damage from the accident may have started Jackson off on a life of painkiller dependency.

Us has been promoting the footage widely; the NYT today ran a short story saying that Pepsi claimed no knowledge of how the footage was leaked.

Wherever could it have come from?

The accident is a footnote to a footnote (the Pepsi campaign) to the batshit craziness that surrounded Jackson and his ludicrous family in the year or two after Thriller came out. The Victory Tour embarked upon by him and his brothers was one of the biggest organizational debacles in entertainment history.

The allegedly in-control Jackson was pressured by his family to go on tour with his brothers. Fair enough. But instead of simply hiring a promoter and setting up a simple and potentially astronomically lucrative MJ/Jacksons tour, Jackson let his brothers be in charge of it.

The first thing they did was hire Don King, which set the tone for the events to follow. For some pointless reason, Jackson’s parents were enlisted as producers, allowing them to skim a percentage off the top. Jackson quickly grew to distrust King in particular (who started the process off with a buffoonish press conference) and the set-up in general, and started bringing in his own producers, which created the predictable organizational chaos.

King had sold the Pepsi commercials on his own. (The Pepsi deal is often cited as an example of Jackson’s alleged brilliant business sense.) Jackson didn’t want to do them, and apparently tried to get out of them, and when he couldn’t limited his appearances as much as possible.

The fire happened when a small incendiary device went off too close to Jackson’s head. The footage looks a little scary, and the Jackson camp played up the injury mightily. But J. Randy Taraborrelli’s The Magic and the Madness says that the third-degree burn that resulted ultimately turned out to be the size of a quarter. I’m not minimizing the danger to Jackson, just relating the facts as they’ve been reported.

Jackson held up Pepsi for a while, and finally settled for a payment that was double of what he was making for the Pepsi commercials. (Taraborrelli says he donated the money to charity.)

So, two points: One, Where did the footage come from?

Taraborrelli: “As soon as the accident occurred, [Jackson manager John] Branca’s partner, Gary Stiffelman, seized the tape from the cameramen and took them. Pepsi didn’t have any footage. Michael had it all.”

I have two theories. One, a member of the Jackson family had a copy of the tape and sold it, LaToya style, to Us. Two, Branca, back in the picture as the executor of the Jackson estate, slipped it to the magazine.

So who stands to gain from its release? The angle Us is taking in its coverage, that the Pepsi accident got Jackson started on painkillers, points toward Branca, who might have released it with an agreed-upon editorial angle to jump-start a campaign to repair the mightily tarnished Jackson image.

If, a year from now, tawdry details of Jackson’s drug use have been dribbling out from the various medical and police investigations, a meme floating around that it all goes back to a tragic accident will give Jackson’s fans something comforting to think about when the truth is a little grimy.

Finally, it should be noted that the commercial itself featured a rewritten “Billie Jean,” with words like “It’s a whole new generation” replacing “Billie Jean is not my lover.” Jackson was pimping out the best song he would ever write to sell his fans sugar water.

Jul 14, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

LaToya goes for the gold

latoya_jackson_horse1.jpgMurdoch’s News of the World, the London tabloid, is in trouble right now after the Guardian’s ongoing exposes about how the paper does business: Besides, of course, paying for stories, it’s also been paying for phone tapping—and then paying some more to keep the victims quiet when the paper got found out.

Anyway, the plain ol’ paying for stories is now a little passé, but when the Jackson family is back in the news it never gets old. First up: The ever-enertaining LaToya, last seen at the Michael Jackson memorial wearing a hat the size of a manhole cover, and shown here to the right in a new ad for an Australian malt liquor.

She told the News of the World that her brother was murdered and she knows who did it:

As she posed a series of vital questions about 50-year-old Jacko’s sudden death 17 days ago at his rented mansion in Los Angeles, La Toya said the pop icon was:

  • FED a series of addictive drugs to keep him submissive and controlled.
  • KEPT from his family by manipulative people who blocked their visits.
  • WORKED to exhaustion even though he DIDN’T want to do the gruelling string of 50 shows due to start at London’s O2 arena tomorrow.
  • ROBBED of TWO MILLION in cash and gems as he lay dying.

Jackson never actually poses any “vital questions,” and never names her suspects, though she says she knows who they are:

“A couple of years ago Michael told me he was worried that people were out to get him. He said, ‘They’re gonna kill me for my publishing. They want my catalogues and they’re gonna kill me for these.’

“I knew something terrible was going to happen.”

Brushing her long dark hair back from her face—features that closely resemble her tragic brother’s—soft-spoken La Toya added: “Michael was being inappropriately treated by people who got him hooked on drugs.

“I can’t say who I believe is responsible as I don’t want to jeopardise the police investigation. But not everybody had Michael’s best interests at heart.

Jul 12, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

Everything you ever wanted to know about worldwide record sales—Michael Jackson, the Beatles, Pink Floyd and more!

On the UK message board I wrote about last week, ukmix.org, a poster calling himself MJDangerous has been submitting reams of information about sales figures from around the world, notably about Michael Jackson.

With that exhaustive data, I first assumed he was a Sony employee, based either in Britain or France. MJDangerous was kind enough to respond to an email I sent him. It turns out he is French, just recently out of school and working as an engineer. His name is Guillaume Vieira. He’s not in the business at all, but rather a fan who for the last six years has been collecting press releases, Billboard stories and sales data and collating them into a coherent and persuasive portrait of an elusive beast: Legitimate accountings of worldwide record sales. I found the information he had at his fingertips impressive*.

We had the following chat over the weekend. I rearranged it a little and did some minor editing. 

Hitsville: Thanks for taking the time to talk about this. What’s your experience in collecting worldwide sales figures? They are notoriously difficult to discern, aren’t they?

Guillaume Vieira: Figures are difficult to discern in the beginning, but I faced enough of them to discern them immediately and quite easily now. I’ve checked charts, certifications and officially reported sales of over 10,000 albums in the last six years. When a figure is said to have been officially reported but hasn’t, I know it instantly. As I said, it is easy for me—I already know all the figures that have been really reported.

Hitsville: As you’ve no doubt noticed, the New York Times after Michael Jackson’s death stated flatly that he had sold 750 million records worldwide, and that Thriller had sold an “estimated” 100 million. Every other news outlet in the land, not to mention the indefatigable U.S. cable channels, cited similar figures. Are they accurate? What’s your best estimate about Thriller?

Vieira: The figure of “over 100 million” for Thriller came out, just like the figure of 750 million for Jackson, in November 2006 at World Music Awards. The last reported figure by Sony was 54 million worldwide, during the HIStory era, while the Guinness Book of World Records reported Thriller at “over 50 million” worldwide. In 2006, his management team reported it sold 104 million worldwide—54 million in the US according to the RIAA and 50 million elsewhere according to Guinness!

Thriller indeed sold over 28 million copies in the US. It was a giant blockbuster there (37 weeks #1). But to sell 100 million it would have to be even more successful in every other market than in the US, which represents 40 percent of international sales. It was for sure a blockbuster, but that much was simply not possible!

In UK, its shipment is up to 4,12 million copies with last week’s sales.

In France, it sold a record breaking 3,3 million copies (1,8 million by Feb 1984 according to Billboard; 2,5 million by 1988 according to SNEP—the French equivalent of the RIAA. Then we have documented sales for recent years).

Italy, 1,19 million up to 2001, published by Sony Music. Thriller 25 is Gold there, as a whole it sold 1,3 million in this country by now.

Germany, 3xPlat (1,5m**) since 1995, not many figures since that time but chart performances put it around 2 million.

Sweden, recently certified 4xPlatinum, 400,000, plus 20,000 copies for Thriller 25.

Netherlands, 800,000 copies by 1996 (8xPlatinum, highest certified album ever), by now over 1 million.

Austria, 400,000, 8xPlatinum, again highest figure ever reached (local albums included).

Belgium, 550,000, 11xPlatinum, second to Helmut Lotti’s Goes Classic only.

Spain, 500,000 by 1984, around a million currently.

In Europe, it sold close to 17 million copies. This figure is massive—more impressive than 28 million in US. Since IFPI introduced album certifications for Europe in 1994, no album ever reached even 10 million. The only one studio album that reached 10 million in Europe in the last 20 years is Dangerous, by Michael Jackson himself, released in 1991, which sold 12 million copies in the old continent. That album, regarded as half a flop in the US, is to Europe/Asia/Oceania the equivalent of Shania Twain’s Come On Over in the US—The biggest album released in the last 2 decades.

Billboard recently reported a figure of 2,5 million copies in Japan for Thriller (it sold 1,616,000 copies while charting in 83/84 alone, without counting imports, 30% of sales of foreign acts). It sold around 6,5 million in Asia.

Over a million in Australia, recently certified 14xPlatinum (980,000). In South America, it is the best selling album ever for a foreign act: more than 600,000 copies in Argentina, over 1,3 million in Brazil, 400,000 in Chile and a million in Mexico. Then over 3 million in Canada. In Africa, it sold 600,000 copies in South Africa alone, 300,000 copies in Turkey, over 2 million in the continent.

Then we only have to add figures: US 28,5m, Europe 17m, Canada 3,3m, Asia 6,5m, Latin America + Oceania 6m, Africa 2m, total around 63 million. As you can see, a lot of accurate data is actually known; the jigsaw is far from being as obscure as people may think. Give or take a maximum of 2m, this figure of 63 million is correct.

Hitsville: What’s your ballpark estimate of how many records Jackson sold worldwide?


Albums -  at least 205 million, at most 225 million
Singles – at least 105 million, at most 120 million
Digital singles – at least 19 million, at most 22 million
Music Videos – at least 14 million, at most 17 million
Ringtones – 2 million, give or take a few thousands (1,4 million in the US)

All those figures don’t include sales of the Jackson 5/Jacksons, except for Digital singles. The group sold:

Albums -  at least 45 million, at most 60 million
Singles – at least 40 million, at most 55 million

All together, that puts a ballpark at 430—500 million, but since some figures may be a bit too high, and others too low (they aren’t all in the low side or all in the high side), a more correct one would be worldwide records sales somewhere between 450 million and 480 million.

That’s around 80 million more than Elvis Presley, 40 million under the Beatles***.

Hitsville: Those are impressive figures, even if they don’t approach those big round numbers the papers were tossing about. Let’s talk about the Jackson Five for a minute. It’s funny—while I hadn’t published it, I was working on a post discussing whether the figure of 100 million sold for the Jackson Five, as is claimed, could possibly be right. To be honest, I thought it couldn’t; their heyday lasted about 18 months. In the U.S. they’re the equivalent of, say, Three Dog Night. On the other hand, I also remember Michael Jackson perhaps in the Martin Bashir documentary, recalling that as a 12-year-old he would get royalty checks of $200,000, which I thought was a large figure a) at the time and b) considering infinitesimal royalty rate the group was getting from Motown. But it makes sense if the group was selling records at those levels. Did they really sell anything like 100 million records?

Guillaume: The Jackson 5/Jacksons did sell around 100 million; they sold around 50 million of each singles and albums. But that is up to now! When that figure was first claimed in 1977, they were obviously, far, far from reaching it. That claim even supposed they were the second group reaching that milestone after the Beatles—outselling even the Rolling Stones, which was not true at all (and still isn’t!). Their single sales in the US were massive; even up to now they still are close to Madonna in this area, and outsold acts like Whitney Houston.

Hitsville: In the context of Motown, the Jacksons were the label’s 5th or 6th biggest act. As I look over a crude marker like the biggest chart acts of Billboard, its strikes me that Berry Gordy oversaw the careers of close to ten percent of the biggest acts in history. Do you have an off-the-cuff sense of how many records Motown sold?

Guillaume: Motown sales were truly gigantic in the 60s and 70s. Single sales were huge at that time and to be honest they were definitely dominating that sector. Album sales of Motown acts are very often not that impressive: First because the market wasn’t big at the time, second because their acts are more remembered for their singles than their albums in general, third because Motown releases the same hits packages again and again, cannibalizing sales of original albums. Only Stevie Wonder, and later Lionel Richie, sold loads of albums while signed by Motown. It is hard to guess the entire sales of the label (especialy since I haven’t studied several of their key acts), but let’s check a few of them:

– Jackson 5 – 70 million (not including sales of the Jacksons, who weren’t on Motown anymore)
– Michael Jackson – 20 million
– Stevie Wonder – 170 million
– Lionel Richie – 85 million
– Diana Ross/Supremes – 190 million
– Commodores – 60 million
– The Temptations – 110 million
– Marvin Gaye – 110 million
– Four Tops – 40 million
– Miracles/Smokey Robinson – 55 million

A total of 910 million – most of them were singles. With all their acts, it is safe to say the Motown label sold well over 1 billion records, which is an incredible total.

Hitsville: Now, if it’s fair to toss in the Jackson Five’s sales with Michael’s, it’s fair to toss in Paul McCartney’s with his previous band. What’s his totals compared to Jackson’s? Diana Ross’ totals as a solo artist combined with with the Supremes?

Guillaume: Diana Ross/Supremes total is ahead, not that far from 200 million records sold. Paul McCartney is the master. He sold around 170 million records on his own, added to over 500 million with the Beatles; that is over two thirds of the road to a billion! Obviously, on such a list, Michael Jackson wouldn’t be at 2, considering the three other Beatles would be ahead of him. Macca with 670m, Lennon with 620m, Harrison with 550m and Ringo with 525m, then Michael Jackson with around 465m. When we see how hard it is to sell 10 million records (and despite what most people think it has always been very hard), those numbers are from another world!

Hitsville: Janet Jackson gets overlooked sometimes in the Michael hoopla, but she is a top-tier star in her own right, isn’t she? What’s your best estimation of her worldwide sales and her ranking worldwide?

Janet sold 45 million singles and 65 million albums, which ranks her among the top 60 best selling acts ever, quite an achievement already, definitely a star on her own. She is in par with the likes Nirvana, Journey, and the Who in terms of album sales and sold many more singles than them.

Hitsville: What are the second and third best-selling albums worldwide, behind Thriller?

Guillaume: Dark Side of the Moon, by Pink Floyd, is the second-best-selling album ever. It is now up to 42 million and still selling very well year after year. It is harder to say which album is at three—a trio of soundtracks sold about the same at 40 million: Grease, Saturday Night Fever and The Bodyguard. Grease looks like having the lead yet and anyway is the one that is still selling the most so it will end at 3 sooner or later.

Jackson’s Bad ranks in the top 10 while Dangerous sits inside the top 20. Interesting to note that despite their relatively small sales in the US compared to Thriller, in the rest of the world they were almost as massive as Thriller and are among the seven and eight best-selling albums ever, along with Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms, Dark Side of the Moon and the three soundtracks previously named. All those albums sold 20 to 23 million outside of the US, except Thriller, which sold close to 35 million.


* I have no way of checking the authenticity of his figures but, to give an indication of the extent of the data he’s working with, a single post in this forum detailing Jackson’s sales just in the UK runs some 7200 words.

** Outside the U.S., platinum certifications are done somewhat proportionally smaller in the different markets.

*** Hitsville would like to point out his rough estimates on Jackson’s sales jibe roughly with Vieira’s.


Previously in Hitsville

Jul 09, 2009
Posted by: Hitsville

Michael Jackson’s worldwide sales — revealed?

Joe Kvidera passes on an interesting series of blog posts that purport to show official sales totals of Michael Jackson from around the world. I’m still absorbing the large amount of data myself that a poster named “Nelson” has shared, but here’s what seems to be the money graf:

WORLDWIDE SALES TOTAL in selected countries

SINGLES Total: 32,430,000 in selected countries
Australia: 525,000
Canada: 450,000
France: 4,275,000
Germany: 2,500,000
Japan: 370,000
US: 13,000,000
UK: 11,310,958

ALBUMS Total: 111,353,000 in selected countries
Australia: 2,835,000
Brazil: 8,220,000
Canada: 3,950,000
France: 5,100,000
Germany: 7,550,000
UK: 14,060,000
Japan: 3,638,000
U.S.: 55,000,000 (certified 58.5 in RIAA – HIStory 3.5, double albums)
Europe: 11,000,000 (complicate, introduced since 1996)

The Jackson camp, of course, makes the claim of 750 million sold. Let the analysis begin!

A few figures seem not quite right to me: Only 13M single sales in the US? Jackson has at least ten platinum singles, and quite a few more gold ones. (Most were from the pre-SoundScan era; if Nelson’s figures are not wrong, it’s powerful evidence that those RIAA certifications, which are based on shipments and not sales, are extremely unreliable indicators.*.)

And there are a lot of quadrants of the world not accounted for, from Asia to Africa.

More later. Besides the other MJ posts below, I also discussed Jackson’s inflated sales claims here.


* They are much more reliable in the multi-platinum realm. A CD certified ten times platinum has probably sold more than 9.5 million. But a simple gold or platinum certification can remain on a record that shipped 500k or 1M but sold perhaps 50 percent of that. If Sony, under demands from Jackson’s management, kept insuring that the artist could claim platinum certs, if not sales, it would be easy for the figures cited by the poster to be correct. Still, I’m skeptical.


Previously in Hitsville