BETWEEN PITCHING “KING OF POP” T-shirts in the street and auctioning off mint-condition memorabilia, business owners and consumers are turning Michael Jackson merchandise into profits.
The second Moorea Wolfe heard the news about Michael Jackson’s sudden death last Thursday evening, she got to work. Wolfe, the co-owner of Clarity of Vision, a yoga and loungewear clothing line in Los Angeles, and her business partner, Sijun Wesson, designed a T-shirt commemorating the late singer with his picture and the phrase, “Long live the King.” By 8 p.m., they had 400 shirts printed up, and by 8:30 p.m., they were en route to Hollywood Boulevard, where mourners had gathered to honor and celebrate Jackson. “We sold all 400 shirts for $10 each,” says Wolfe, who is donating 10% of the proceeds to charity. “We’re going to keep making more shirts… And when the next thing comes around we’ll probably do something else,” she says.
Profiting off the death of another can be unsettling and even frowned upon, but it’s big business when the person is an icon, says Darren Julien, principal of Julien Auctions, which has exhibited collections of Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. Last Friday (the day after Jackson’s death), a Jackson Five album, “Goin’ Back to Indiana,” which was signed by each member of the group, sold for $33,750 at his auction house. “That album would typically sell for $2,000 to $3,000,” he says. “We don’t notice recessions in the world of celebrity memorabilia.”
Last Friday, a Jackson Five album, “Goin’ Back to Indiana,” which was signed by each member of the group, sold at auction for $33,750. Before Jackson’s death, the item would have fetched $2,000 to $3,000.
Jackson memorabilia up for grabs at online auction web sites is also gaining momentum. Last Thursday, the amount of Jackson merchandise listed on eBay surged 275%, compared to the daily average the week before. Also, the number of new listings posted Thursday came in 61% above the daily average prior to Jackson’s death, and sale prices were 31% higher than the daily average, according to eBay.
Two of the biggest Jackson auctions now live on eBay include an award from the Recording Industry Association of America for the 1982 multiplatinum album “Thriller,” which is estimated to have sold over 100 million copies, and an autographed black, felt fedora hat worn by Jackson. Twenty-eight bidders have lifted the album’s value, which was originally listed at $30,000, to just under $56,000. Twelve bids for the deceased artist’s hat, which owner Chuck Palmer purchased in 1994 for $1,500, have raised the asking price to $7,600 (The bidding for this item started at $1,000.)
One of the biggest auctions of Jackson merchandise on eBay took place before his death in May. A glove, which the seller claimed Jackson wore during his 1984-85 Victory tour and when he won eight Grammy’s for his “Thriller” album, sold for $99,10. “As more items come into the marketplace, I wouldn’t be surprised if things start to surpass the glove price,” says James Massey, founder of WhatSellsBest.com, a web site that tracks best-selling eBay auctions.
Of course, many items appreciated almost instantly, and some sellers capitalized. Ron Hartford, the founder of Grid Iron Autographs, a sports memorabilia eBay store based in Manhattan, Kan., tested the market for an unopened “Thriller” album he had held onto for almost 30 years. To see how much it was fetching, he did a search on eBay. Last Thursday, a copy of the album was being listed for $250, and Hartford saw dollar signs.
Within 25 minutes of listing his own still-shrink-wrapped record on eBay for 99 cents, Hartford says bids reached $100. And within three days, the record, which he originally purchased in 1982 for around $6, sold for $455. “Two years ago that record was going for $10 or $15 online,” he says. “I’ll probably end up pumping the money back into my business.”
The market for Jackson biographies is also poised to blossom after his passing. Michael Largo, an author of three books on celebrity deaths, says the floodgates are open because slander and libel laws don’t apply to the dead. “I just had a meeting with my editor at Harpers. Already, people are putting out proposals about Michael Jackson third-party biographies,” he says. “You can pretty much say whatever you want because you’re no longer under the auspices of slander and libel laws.”
Perhaps the oddest business likely to see an upswing after the King of Pop’s demise is the celebrity-impersonator circuit. Joshua Gair, founder of Impact Entertainment Services, a talent-booking firm in Orlando, Fla., says that the evening Jackson’s death was announced, he received 100 to 150 emails inquiring about having a Jackson impersonator appear at an event. “Before [Jackson’s] death, we did the occasional impersonation of him; he wasn’t super popular,” he says. “But now, we’re finding that people want to celebrate his life. Everyone has their ups and downs in show biz, but overall they’ll be remembered for what they were good at.”
–Write to Diana Ransom at firstname.lastname@example.org
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