After months of suspense, Sony Music has just bought half of Michael Jackson's catalog. The media Billboard estimates that the amount of the agreement amounts to at least 600 million dollars. Variety, for its part, spoke of negotiations around 800 to 900 million between the studio and the estate of the King of Pop. Whatever the exact amount kept secret, it would be “the biggest sale on the music catalog market to date”.
As far as we know, the deal includes some of Michael Jackson's biggest hits, like Beat It and Bad, but also 50% of the rights to the musical MJ as well as the biopic Michael, scheduled for 2025 and supposed to return over the star's four decades of career. In the market, also, all or part of the songs and albums, not by Michael Jackson, but that he had acquired over the years. According to American media, there are no less than 250 songs by artists like Jerry Lee Lewis or Ray Charles.
In recent years, sales of music catalogs have become a major issue for the majors, keen to make their investments grow with less risk. And what better than an artist whose career is already established and with an international reputation, deceased or not, to fill the coffers, particularly through streaming rights? The calculation is low risk - much less than betting on and promoting young artists, for example -, profitability guaranteed in the medium or long term and minimal promotional work.
Sony Music understood this well and became one of the biggest labels in the sector by multiplying the purchase of publishing rights with large checks. In 2021, rocker Bruce Springsteen, nicknamed “the boss”, sold him all his publishing rights for $500 million. The sale notably included Born in the USA, 15 times platinum in the United States, as well as songs composed for other artists. A year earlier, in 2020, Bob Dylan did the same by leaving the rights to his most famous titles, including Blowin'in the Wind or Like a Rolling Stone, not to Sony but to Universal Music for $300 million. And among the latest big sales to date, there are those of the catalogs of Paul Simon, Neil Young and even David Bowie, sometimes for several hundred million dollars.