After his death, not only did Michael Jackson’s albums sell more units than other recently deceased musicians, but the posthumous fervor for his recorded music catalog was unlike anything seen in recent years. Sales of his four studio albums and two of his compilations – "HIStory" and "Number Ones" – collectively rose from 4,000 units a week to 570,000 units a week – an increase of about 15,600%.
Take his "Number Ones" collection. In the eight weeks leading up to Jackson’s death, the best-selling of his albums was selling about 3,000 units a week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. In the week of his death, the album spiked over 15,500% to 108,000 units. Over the next seven weeks, "Number Ones" sales averaged 199,000 units per week. That’s almost a 9,000% improvement in weekly sales.
Jackson’s 1987 album "Bad" was barely selling anything prior to his death. Sales jumped from nearly zero to an average of 46,000 units a week in the eight weeks following his death. "Thriller," always a fair catalog title, jumped an incredible 78,000% in the following weeks. "Off The Wall" rose over 92,000%.
Upon his death, radio play spiked. Airplay for Jackson's biggest hits surged 1,735% - 143 of Jackson's recordings totaled 67,383 plays - the week ending June 28, 2009, according to research provided by Nielsen BDS last year.
In the year after Jackson’s death, his solo recordings sold about nine million albums in the U.S., as well as roughly 13 million tracks. Billboard estimates over that time that Jackson generated well over $1 billion in revenue from recorded music, publishing, merchandise and the “This Is It” motion picture.
Other musicians – even those who died in their commercial prime – don’t come close. After Kurt Cobain's death in 1994, sales of Nirvana’s albums—all well-distributed across the country—spiked, but not nearly as much as Jackson’s albums. Weekly sales of Nirvana’s three albums rose only 170% from a total of about 30,000 to about 82,000. In comparison, Jackson’s "Number Ones" alone shot up to 246,000 units a week.
Weekly sales of tejano star Selena’s latest two albums rose about 1,250% in the eight weeks after her death in March 1995. Rapper Tupac Shakur died in September 1996; his two most recent albums, "All Eyez On Me" and "Me Against The World," collectively rose just 158% from 26,000 albums per week to about 68,000 per week.
Cult legend Alex Chilton experienced a solid boost to his low album sales after his death in March of this year – although the percentage gains did not come anywhere close to those of Jackson’s catalog. In the week after Chilton’s death, Big Star's sales rose almost 1,600% from its trailing eight-week average.