How Michael Jackson's Death Really Spells The End Of An Era For The Music Industry
After Michael Jackson's Death, P2P Search Queries Dwarf Worldwide Record Sales and Downloads

By MusicDish [07-09-2009]

Since Michael Jackson's death on June 25, 2009, sales of every form of his music have risen by a nuclear degree. According to Nielsen Soundscan ratings, US album sales have risen by 4,000% from 10,000 the week ending on 6/21/09 to 422,000 the week ending on 6/28/09, and leapt a further 90% the following week. Album sales during the week ending on 7/5/09 reached 800,000 equalling well over half of the total sales for all of 2008. At the same time, Jackson's records occupied all of the top 10 spots on the Nielsen Soundscan Top Catalog Album Chart marking a first in music history.

Even more remarkable are the digital track sales. In the US, digital sales jumped 6,100% from 37,300 the week ending on 6/21/09 to 2.3 million the week ending 6/28/09. The sales for North America, Europe and Oceania also increased by well over 6,000%. This means that digital sales increased by 2,100% more than overall album sales. These data accentuate the trend towards digital sales and away from hard copy. Ringtone downloads also rose by 9,850%. In the week ending on 6/28/09 people downloaded 200,000 ringtones and 336,000 the following week. These numbers dwarf the 83,000 ringtone purchases made for the entire remainder of 2009.

Despite the tremendous numbers reported by Neilsen, some say that they are only the tip of the musical iceberg. The trend, it seems, is not only towards digital download but towards peer-to-peer (P2P) protocols. Brand Asset Digital, a P2P marketing company, reports that P2P search and streaming protocol demand for Michael Jackson's music since his death dwarfs the digital download data reported by Nielsen 100 fold. Search queries ranging across P2P networks have shot up beyond the 250 million mark producing over an estimated 4 billion impressions. According to Brand Asset Digital, these data smash any major music, film, video game, software release or any other search term in P2P history. The data suggest a strong trend towards heavy P2P protocol usage, making it, the company says, the next frontier of branding and product marketing.

While the recent sales data for Michael Jackson's music are staggering indeed, they should not lead one to believe that there is still a future for the old pop star model. The fact is that the 'Pop Star Age' is passing on with the King of Pop whose death is also a turning of the page for the music industry. For we are not likely to see such a successful performer again for decades, at least not until we've built a new industry that befits this brave new digitized and networked world. While there is no denying that the increase in digital sales over hard copy sales and even greater jump in P2P search queries and streams highlights a steady trend for the music business, there are factors at play that these numbers ignore. Let's not forget that Michael Jackson was, and still is, the King of Pop. He is perhaps the most famous popular music star of all time with nine platinum singles, the third highest of all time, and the best selling record in music history with over 100 million copies of Thriller sold worldwide. Thriller stayed on the Billboard charts for a record 80 weeks. As the world's most popular solo artist, it comes as no surprise that his untimely death has produced atmospheric album sales, and these numbers should be considered for what they are: an extreme deviation from the mean. These recent numbers are not indicative of a trend, they are a once in a lifetime anomaly, and ultimately cannot be aggregated out onto the entire music industry.

By Jon Peritz and Eric de Fontenay


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