Random Musings: Is Sony Panic Buying with the MJ Deal?

Posted: November 19, 2010 in music, Random Musings
Tags: , , , ,

Sony is about to release the first of ten albums agreed in a deal with Michael Jackson’s estate valued at up to $250 million. This week, the focus seems to be on whether or not that’s actually Michael singing on the album. His brother Randy, among others, is sure it is not, not on every track anyway. The fact that the Jackson family was prevented from attending any of the sessions to complete the album further aroused suspicions. Also, the quality of the first track made public, “Breaking News”, had Randy questioning its authenticity because it wasn’t up to the perfectionist standards he expected from his brother. On the other hand Randy, maybe there’s a reason why the material wasn’t released while MJ was alive.

Well, maybe it’s Michael and maybe it isn’t. Add this to the long of MJ-related rumours that will never be proved or disproved adequately enough to prevent people from believing whatever they chose to believe. Yawn.

I think the most interesting question has little to do with the preceding details. It is this: Why does Sony feel compelled to sign a 10 album deal with a dead guy? That’s as many studio albums as he released when he was alive. Does Sony even know whether there is ten albums worth of material? Or five? Reported rumblings suggest that the first one will be shredded by the critics.

Whatever spin may be put on it, I think the obvious answer is that Michael Jackson can be counted on to do something that most artists find more difficult with each passing year – sell massive quantities of CDS. Last year, MJ was responsible for about 7% of Sony’s sales, and over 40% of Epic’s (Epic is the label that Michael Jackson actually appears on, but Sony is the parent company) “This is It”, his first actual posthumous release, sold 696,000 units in its first three weeks. Sony expect the new album to do better.

I get a sense that Sony is panic buying in a desperate attempt to slow their decline and, by extension, the erosion of the music industry as we know it. Music sales on physical media have tanked, downloads haven’t provided the balance to maintain status quo, different enterprises are scrambling to find a workable, profitable model going forward, and it might not be there, at least not in the form that the current market leaders would like it to be. If it is there, it’s likely that new faces with radical ideas will run off with at least some of the diminishing market. The music empires that came to power on the old paradigm are appropriately nervous. Why wouldn’t Sony want to perpetuate one of its biggest sellers? For their sake, I
hope the MJ deal isn’t the iceberg to their Titanic.

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