750 Million Albums is an Off The Wall Number

No, Michael Jackson did not sell 750 million albums.

A funny thing happened to Michael Jackson’s sales figures over the past few years: They seemed to have more than tripled:

“In the last three years of his life, long after the release of his final original album, Michael Jackson’s career album sales took a curious leap.

For many years, Mr. Jackson’s lifetime sales tally typically was reported at 200 million albums world-wide. But in late 2006, news articles began putting the number at 750 million, a figure that became part of the popular lore as Mr. Jackson was attempting a comeback. In the last few weeks, it has popped up in obituaries and retrospectives.

So how did the sales figure nearly quadruple? A likely explanation is that a rough tally of individual songs was misinterpreted or misrepresented to reflect album sales. Such a numerical misstep is surprisingly easy to make in the world of album sales figures, where reliable information is spotty in the U.S., and often nonexistent overseas.”

Several fans actually did the heavy lifting of totaling official sales data, country by country. Lau Ho Hoi in Hong Kong noted on the music blog Hitsville that MJ sold 131.5 million albums world-wide, and 65.6 million singles. The total doesn’t include digital downloads, which have taken off for Mr. Jackson since his death. Guillaume Vieira, a Paris engineer, puts the totals at 205.5 million albums.

Neither fan is remotely close to 3/4 of a billion sales.

So how did that number come about? There is a simple explanation: A Publicist made up the 750 million number!

I kid you not:

“That figure first got legs in late 2006, when Raymone Bain, a publicist for Mr. Jackson at the time, touted in a letter to Jackson fan clubs that sales had “exceeded over 750 million units.”

The WSJ article generously spins the error as a misinterpretation of songs sold versus albums — but that’s giving a PR flack way too much credit. Those of us who earn our living in the economic trenches deciphering PR spin know a good bullshit tale when we see one. 750 million albums sure as hell qualifies!


click for interactive WSJ graphic


Spun: The Off-the-Wall Accounting of Record Sales
WSJ, July 15, 2009

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