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MICHAEL JACKSON: SELLING A LEGACY

Michael Jackson mourners vie for CDs, memorabilia

Demand quickly puts retailers out of stock. 'This is simply unprecedented,' says an executive at Amazon.com, which sold out of Jackson CDs minutes after news broke of the pop star's death.

June 27, 2009|Andrea Chang and Randy Lewis

In death, Michael Jackson is a bestseller again.

Along Hollywood Boulevard on Friday, mourners snapped up glossy posters and T-shirts bearing the singer's image from rows of sidewalk sellers. Online retailers reported that they were placing back orders for sold-out merchandise and working with suppliers to meet the staggering demand. Elsewhere, business was brisk in pretty much all things MJ.

"This is simply unprecedented," said Bill Carr, vice president of music and video at Amazon.com Inc., which sold out of Michael Jackson and Jackson 5 CDs minutes after news broke that the pop star had died Thursday. "We've seen the death of Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra and many other artists, but none of them compare to what we're witnessing today."

As of Friday afternoon, Jackson-related DVDs filled the top seven spots in Amazon's "Bestsellers in Movies & TV" list and Jackson albums accounted for all 10 of the "Bestsellers in Music" list, with the 25th-anniversary edition of "Thriller" taking the No. 1 spot, Carr said.

"In the last 24 hours, we've actually sold more Michael Jackson albums in our MP3 and CD stores than we have in the 11 years since the launch of our music business," he said.

At Barnes & Noble Inc., Chief Merchandising Officer Jaime Carey said that the company's online store and retail locations were sold out of nearly all Jackson CDs, DVDs and books. All of BN.com's 10 bestselling CDs were Jackson albums, he said.

"We're working with the record labels, the studios and the publishers to get stock in as quickly as possible to meet the overwhelming customer demand," he said.

Fans also flocked to sites such as EBay and Craigslist to buy Jackson memorabilia. An EBay spokeswoman said the number of Michael Jackson items sold Thursday was 210% higher than on the same day a week earlier.

For years, Jackson's "Thriller" has held the No. 2 spot on the Recording Industry Assn. of America's list of the bestselling albums of all time, close behind the Eagles' "Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975."

It may be a matter of weeks, perhaps days, before the pop singer's landmark album reclaims the No. 1 spot as fans around the world snap up his recordings to mourn his passing and celebrate his storied career.

At Amoeba Music in Hollywood, customers arrived Friday morning disappointed to find that all Jackson CDs, vinyl records, posters and T-shirts had sold out in less than two hours Thursday.

"Is there really nothing left? Is it really all gone?" said Raider Villalobos, 20, who stopped by the record store on his way to visit Jackson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Minutes later, a new shipment arrived. Shoppers jammed the aisle, snatching up handfuls of CDs seconds after they were removed from the cardboard box.

Deshawn Richard and his wife, Catherine, emerged from the crowd with four albums -- including "Dangerous" and "Bad" -- and said they were hoping to buy some posters too.

"We have a legend that's gone, and we're always going to want a piece of him," said Deshawn, 25, a security officer from Lancaster. "I went to karaoke last night and did 'Man in the Mirror' and everyone was crying and singing along."

Troy Culpan, a marketing executive, snapped a photo of Jackson's section of CDs with his digital camera before buying a copy of "The Essential Michael Jackson."

"It's a little bit morbid, but I want it," said Culpan, 33. "I never picked it up because I thought he'd always be around."

Keith Caulfield, Billboard's senior chart manager, noted a significant change in the way fans have been able to respond to Jackson's death as opposed to those of artists who preceded him.

"Unlike in those cases, where you still purchased a physical album and had to go to a store and buy something, which may not have been in stock at the store you wanted to go to, today people can get what they want instantly on iTunes or Amazon or whatever. So I think the sales impact will be greater than one would expect."

Caulfield said sales of Jackson's albums through Sunday, the end of the retail reporting cycle, "will have a very significant impact on next week's chart. In a way, he will be king of the charts again next week."

Business also was booming Friday for street vendors who set up shop along Hollywood Boulevard near Jackson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, hawking T-shirts that read "Long Live the King" and other merchandise.

Steve Temple, a beverage marketer from Inglewood, was selling posters for $10 that featured a collage of Jackson photos through the years.

"It's something to remember him by," he said. "So far I've sold 20 and I've been out here 30 minutes."

Sandy Cup Choy, a church secretary from Los Angeles, was on her way to place pink roses and a white poinsettia by Jackson's star when she stopped to buy a poster.

"This is just beautiful," she said. "I'm going to hang it up in my room. I'll treasure it always."

Gary Arnold, senior entertainment officer at Best Buy Co., said he looked back to the deaths of John Lennon in 1980 and Elvis Presley in 1977 to find a comparable outpouring from fans seeking solace in the music of a pop icon whose life ended so unexpectedly.

"I would think in the natural way that people are going to grieve and celebrate his life, a lot of them will reach out to the music that touched them from Michael, and the good news is there's so much of it," he said. "I don't think the emotions, the wounds, the sadness will heal quickly. But I believe at the core of all this there was an incredible entertainer who moved people, and I think the music and the videos he left behind will help people with that healing process."

--

andrea.chang@latimes.com

randy.lewis@latimes.com

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