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Quest Means Business: The business of MJ

Last week I was in Los Angeles as part of the CNN team covering of the death of Michael Jackson. It has been a startling insight into the world of celebrity in life and death; a world where fact is often stranger than fiction. There have been moments when I really thought you couldn t …


Last week I was in Los Angeles as part of the CNN team covering of the death of Michael Jackson. It has been a startling insight into the world of celebrity in life and death; a world where fact is often stranger than fiction.

There have been moments when I really thought you couldn t write this as a story and be believed.

It has also given me an insight into just how popular Michael Jackson was, and now his estate.

Guessing how much Michael Jackson was worth is just that – a guess – because of the complexity of his financial affairs. Settling the estate will be an enormous task for his two executors, named as his lawyer and a record company executive.

The jewel in the crown is certainly the Sony/ATV catalogue, which includes the rights of up to 500,000 songs. It was bought in 1985 for $47.5 million.

Among its riches are the Lennon and McCartney songs written for The Beatles. The catalogue also includes tracks from artists such as Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond and even Elvis Presley. Even though Jackson sold half his interest to pay off debts some years ago, his 50 percent share will still bring in hundreds of millions of dollars. But no one knows really just how much it is worth; that is until it is put up for sale.

Then there are his own songs which are owned by his company, Mijac.

Within a week of his death Jackson was once again breaking records. He dominated the charts, having nine out of the 10 albums on the Billboard including his compilation of number one hits, “Essential and of course “Thriller.

He was also a master of the online download world – an industry that wasn t invented when he first released Thriller in 1983. He now holds the record of being the first artist to reach one million downloads on iTunes in a week. In fact he has broken so many records that may well be a record in itself.

All of this activity will pour money into the Michael Jackson estate, which we now know will ultimately be transferred into a trust for his family and charities.

The Jackson estate also includes his partial interest in the Neverland Ranch and of course all the trinkets and memorabilia accumulated over many years.

Even though some of that has been auctioned off to pay debts, there is still a mountain left.

But as any householder knows, what is coming in is only half the equation. There are of course the debts on the other side of the scale.

And boy are we talking Thriller-sized. Michael Jackson is believed to be hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, the product of years of overspending.

Of course the debts just keep growing. The claims for the now cancelled This Is It tour of 50 London concerts could run into tens of millions of dollars. It s estimated $85 million worth of tickets sale have to be returned.

Balancing it all out, how much was Jackson worth? Well the Associated Press estimated this week when all was said and done Jackson had a net worth of around $200 million. Hardly a pittance.

By now you may be asking why have I taken you on this tour of Jackson s finances? Because as the rap singer Snoop Dog once told me, it is not called the music business for nothing! And what we are clearly seeing with Michael Jackson s death are those words in perfect harmony. His music is without parallel, and his business is no different. This story is as much about business as music. Here you can t have one without the other.

I never thought I would be quoting Snoop Dog in an article. I never thought I would be writing about Michael Jackson s business enterprises.

As I said at the beginning, this week has really been stranger than you would believe; a bit like that funny thing – the music business.

Richard Quest is a CNN anchor and correspondent who reports on business travel issues. Tune in to CNN International each weekday at 9 pm to catch Richard’s show, “Quest Means Business.

Topics: FJP

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