King of Pop sells 800,000 albums

The King of Pop reigns supreme in death when it comes to record sales.

Preliminary figures from Nielsen SoundScan for the week ended Sunday reveal that 800,000 units sold from Michael Jackson’s catalog of solo albums — virtually doubling the number of records sold the previous week when, in the immediate wake of the singer’s death, 422,000 albums were snapped up.

Since Nielsen SoundScan started compiling figures in 1991, no other catalog performer has generated this kind of sales volume. Even recent releases from top sellers such as Eminem (608,000), U2 (484,000) and the Dave Matthews Band (424,000) fell below the cumulative mark. The last artist to sell a million albums out of the gate was rapper Lil Wayne a year ago.

The Jackson sales boom compares with the outpouring of interest in Elvis Presley’s recordings after his death in 1977.

“We’ve had a couple of artists that had passed away like the rappers Tupac and Biggie Smalls, but nowhere near the increase in sales — maybe a 20,000-30,000 increase,” said Chris Muratore, VP of retail relations and research services for Nielsen Entertainment.

The sales bump reflects activity in the first full week since the singer’s death at age 50 on June 25. After brick-and-mortar outlets quickly sold out of Jackson discs, Sony Music Entertainment, which handles Jackson’s Epic releases, and Universal Music Group, the home of the Jackson 5 and early Jackson solo recordings, were able to promptly supply retailers with CDs to fulfill consumer demand, according to the data-tracking service, which tallies sales of music throughout the U.S. and Canada.

More significantly, at a time when hard album sales have taken a beating — and a backseat to digital downloads of mostly singles — physical recordings of Jackson’s LPs accounted for 82% of Jackson’s sales last week, or 656,000 physical units vs. 144,000 downloads. In the previous week, physical product amounted to 43% of sales (181,000 units) vs. 57% in digital activity (241,000).

“It’s obvious that people wanted to have the physical album,” Muratore said.

When all is said and done, Jackson’s “Number Ones” collection will be the top-selling album in the U.S. for the frame, moving 339,000 units, up 215% from the week before. “Thriller” lands at No. 2 with 187,000, up 86%. Third place goes to the newly released “Now 31″ (169,000), a compilation by various artists including the Black Eyed Peas, Beyonce and Lady GaGa.

“The Essential Michael Jackson” sold 125,000 units, with Brad Paisley’s “American Saturday Night” (130,000) and Rob Thomas’ “Cradlesong” (122,000) the only other discs to top the 100,000 mark.

In Billboard’s Top Pop Catalog chart, which gets its numbers from Nielsen SoundScan and tracks recording more than 18 months old, Jackson is the dominant figure, with his solo albums commanding nine out of the top 10 slots, with the Jackson 5’s “The Ultimate Collection” claiming the remaining position at No. 7. This is the first time one artist has ever held all top 10 spots in catalog sales.

On Billboard’s Hot Digital Songs chart, Jackson claims five of the top 10 slots, with “Man in the Mirror” leading the pack at 159,000 transactions, down 3%. The only tune that sold more was the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Got a Feeling” (215,000, up 6%). Total downloads of Jackson songs stands at 2.2 million vs. 2.6 million the week before.

The spike in Jackson product is not limited to the U.S. Figures spanning North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand point to 5.6 million digital track sales over the past two weeks. Nielsen SoundScan processed nearly 2.7 million Jackson digital track sales across the three continents in the most recent period vs. 552,000 the previous week. This past week alone, there were 419,000 digital downloads of Jackson tunes in Europe and Australia vs. 419,000 through the first 25 weeks of the year.

In the past week, 38 of the top 100 singles in the U.K. were Michael Jackson or Jackson 5/Jacksons songs; 11 of the top 100 albums in the U.K. are Michael Jackson or Jackson Five/Jacksons albums, including the Nos. 1, 3, 5, 6 and 10. In the top-40 download chart, 13 are by Michael or the Jacksons.

Jackson album downloads held eight of the top 10 slots over the past week in France, while in Spain, three of Jackson’s LPs, led by “Thriller,” were among the country’s top 15 discs. And in Argentina, Jackson’s “Number Ones” made a quantum leap from No. 70 to No. 1, with four other Jackson LPs also landing in the Top 10.

As for possible future sales of material mined from the Jackson vaults, or even repacked versions of previously released discs, the horizon looks ripe for profit. “I don’t see this activity dying down dramatically anytime soon,” said Steve Wengert, VP sales at Universal Music Enterprises, UMG’s catalog division.

(Elsa Keslassy in Paris, Emiliano de Pablos in Madrid, Charles Newbery in Buenos Aires and Leo Barraclough in London contributed to this report.)

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