Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Worth More Dead Than Alive?

Hmm... Worth More Dead Than Alive seems to be the theme this week, especially with my recent posting of the Sotheby's auction of the Polaroid Collection, where Ansel Adams prints have sold in the hundred of thousands of dollars ($722,500 was highest bid in this auction). But, what is it with being worth more dead than alive that seems to be true? Well, if you look at life, we have life insurance policies that guard a loss one's wages and then we have artist's works that become more valuable after they are dead because we know another will not be produced (i.e. Vincent Van Gogh, Ansel Adams, Elvis Presley). This sounds grim, but after reading an article written in the about Michael Jackson's estate a year after his death, it has some truth to it.

While alive, Michael Jackson was a celebrity; a celebrated individual who was a singer, songwriter, dancer, performer -- an all around music icon. But all of that was soon forgotten or cast aside as he was persecuted for child abuse, plastic surgeries and strange public behavior. However, his public perception changed as soon as he passed away. Once you heard about his death, tears rolled down people's cheeks, vigils were held, his music played everywhere (radio, bars) ... people almost instantly forgot and forgave him for his past -- or soon realized, it was not important in comparison to what he had achieved over his lifetime ... and the music sales soared.

I found a quote by Robert F. X. Sillerman in the article amusing:

"Death changes everything ... There’s something unique about Americans,” he said. “We root against people and look for the negative while people are alive, and then we’re very forgiving, whether they deserve it or not, and we celebrate their success in death.

As the first anniversary of his passing approaches on June 25, the article in the NYTimes says that "the Jackson brand has generated hundreds of millions of dollars, and experts in the management of celebrity estates say that in the long term it might very well equal or eclipse the value of what until now has been the ultimate entertainment estate: that of Elvis Presley, which earned $55 million last year, according to an estimate by Forbes magazine." In addition, "last year Jackson sold nearly 8.3 million albums in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan — far more than any other artist." His movie, "Michael Jackson's This is It" also grossed $261 million around the world, according to

Wow! In the last few years of Michael Jackson's life, he was in financial turmoil (at least thats what the news headlines were saying) and was in more than $400 million in debt -- but just in the last year, it seems to be that his Jackson brand has made a comeback. Incredible isn't it? Worth more alive than dead (ok, this is a quick generalization, but the idea is interesting).

But one thing is certain, once someone dies, that is, someone who has made a "brand name for themselves", their work is immediately sold for higher prices (artwork: Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol) than when they were alive or their work is sold in much higher volumes (i.e. Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley).

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