In the days following Michael Jackson's June 25 death, fans flocked to record stores and digital music outlets to purchase one last memory. And merchants say they expect the Jackson sales surge to last for weeks—maybe even months.
"With the around-the-clock coverage and questions about his death, this story will keep going, with every development giving it a new bit of life," says Kerry Fly, VP of purchasing and marketing at wholesaler Eurpac.
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Jackson's solo album sales in the United States skyrocketed from 10,000 copies in the week before his death to 422,000 in the week ended June 28, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
During the same period, U.S. track downloads surged from about 48,000 copies to 2.6 million. The week of his death, the best-selling track was "Thriller" at 167,000 copies, while the top-selling album was "Number Ones" at 108,000.
In the United Kingdom, Jackson held 11 of the top 200 album positions and 43 of the top 200 singles based on sales monitored by the Official Charts Co. for the week ended June 27. Despite the inclusion of only two full days of sales after Jackson's death, "Number Ones" topped the OCC album chart after selling 46,400 physical copies and 10,000 downloads. "Thriller" also reached the albums top 10 at No. 7, with combined physical and digital sales of 14,900.
Among Jackson's best-selling albums in the United States during the week ended June 28, the split between physical and digital retailers varied sharply, which appeared to relate to the availability of titles at physical retailers. Anticipation of a pending Sony price cut on catalog titles appeared to prompt U.S. retailers to stock popular greatest-hits collections like "Number Ones" instead of studio albums like "Thriller" or less popular compilations like "The Essential Michael Jackson."
Mass merchants like Wal-Mart and Target accounted for 56.3% of sales of the top-selling "Number Ones" album, followed by digital merchants with 31.3% of sales, chains like Trans World and Best Buy 11.1% and others 1.3%, according to SoundScan.
By contrast, digital merchants accounted for 78.5% of sales of the second best-selling title, "The Essential Michael Jackson," while mass merchants accounted for 12.4%, chains 6.6% and others 2.5%. For the third-best-selling album, "Thriller," digital stores accounted for 56.2% of sales, while chains accounted for 21.4%, mass merchants 16.4%, indies 4.4% and others 1.6%.
From the day of Jackson's death until the following Tuesday (June 30), U.S. physical retail accounts had ordered about 3 million of his albums on Sony Music Entertainment, while international orders hovered around 5 million copies, sources say. Although Sony had to scramble to meet demand, it got high marks for getting Jackson product to stores June 29, after most retailers had sold out of the artist's inventory during the weekend.
Universal Music Group, which owns the Motown label, caught a break when it experienced a smaller run on the Jackson 5 catalog: It had already shipped plenty of product as part of its Motown 50th-anniversary promotions.
"By dumb luck, we weren't completely caught off guard," says Universal Music Group Distribution president/CEO Jim Urie. He notes that the company also shipped the rest of its Jackson 5 inventory and had U.S. orders for 300,000 album copies as of June 30, which will be back-ordered until July 6.