Sony Music moved swiftly Tuesday to stamp out a swirl of speculation that it was maneuvering to acquire the remaining half of ATV Music Publishing — which includes more than 250 songs from the Beatles’ back-catalog — from waning superstar Michael Jackson.
“We are not in discussions with Mr. Jackson over the sale of his share of the ATV catalog,” a Sony rep insisted. “These rumors are completely baseless.”
But the insider chatter over a possible deal nevertheless put a spotlight on the Gloved One’s financial situation, which has deteriorated steadily amid declining record sales, legal expenses and superstar-level living costs.
Indeed, sources close to the situation had said Sony, whose Epic division puts out Jackson’s records, wasn’t looking to buy the Beatles songs so much as foreclose on them — Jackson’s share of the catalog is said to be pledged against loans to the singer of about $200 million.
The King of Pop’s expense sheets tell only half the story. During Jackson’s heyday in the 1980s, when his LP “Thriller” shattered all-time sales records worldwide, success hid a multitude of sins. But sales of his latest effort, “Invincible,” which is said to have cost $30 million to produce, have barely dented 2 million over the past six months.
Losing the Beatles catalog, while perhaps alleviating some short-term liquidity woes, would amost certainly hurt Jackson in the long run. Its sale value is amorphous — industryites have put it at anywhere from $400 million to more than $1 billion.
But as a business, it’s a goldmine of Swiss-watch reliability. The publishing rights to the more famous Beatles tracks, classics like “Yesterday” and “Let It Be” — fetch more than $250,000 per use. Even after paying a share to Paul McCartney and the John Lennon estate, that means millions in steady income per year.
If Jackson’s own bankability among pop-music fans continues to wane, it may look increasingly foolhardy to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.