Page last updated at 11:24 GMT, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 12:24 UK

Jackson: The king of merchandise

By Ian Youngs
Music reporter, BBC News

Michael Jackson memorabilia
Paying tribute or cashing in? The Michael Jackson industry is thriving

Seven weeks after his death, Michael Jackson is to feature on clothes, coins, trading cards and singing stuffed animals after a judge approved a deal to manufacture official merchandise.

As Elvis Presley has proved, death need not get in the way of a successful career.

The King of Rock 'n' Roll raked in approximately $52m (£32m) last year, and headlines sent from Elvis' official website before the 32nd anniversary of his death on Monday explain why:

  • The King of Rock 'N' Roll inspires a NEW teddy bear!
  • Priscilla Presley and the cast of the new Elvis-inspired Cirque du Soleil show
  • Elvis on QVC
  • Elvis in Las Vegas Jackpot Promotion
  • New Elvis Presley Gladiators DVD To Debut in August
  • UPDATE - Graceland and Raceland Come Together for One Unique Offer
  • All Aboard for Elvis's 75th: The King of Rock 'n' Roll Train with Commemorative 75th Birthday Car Now Available

Elvis Presley souvenir doll in shop window
1. Elvis Presley - $52m/year
2. Charles M Schulz - $33m
3. Heath Ledger - $20m
4. Albert Einstein - $18m
5. Aaron Spelling - $15m
Source: Forbes magazine, Oct 2008

Merchandise, endorsements, Graceland visits and even his own radio show - on top of music and DVD sales - have ensured that Elvis earns more than any other dead celebrity, and many living ones for that matter.

The Michael Jackson industry looks likely to grow to similar proportions.

As well as the merchandise, there will be a film, made using footage from the rehearsals for the doomed O2 comeback concerts, a re-issue of his autobiography and an official coffee table book costing £109.

Jackson's former lawyer John Branca, one of the executors of the will, says the star is likely to make $200m (£120m) in record sales and tribute tie-ups by the end of the year.

"We want to look at what other estates have done - Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley - and use the best from each one to create our own strategy," Mr Branca recently told the Los Angeles Times.

There are great opportunities for us to make a lot of money for the estate
Howard Weitzman

Howard Weitzman, a lawyer for the executors, said: "This estate has a long life. Michael Jackson is an icon of monumental proportions.

"I think there are great opportunities for us to make a lot of money for the estate for Michael's beneficiaries, which today are his mother and his three children."

Columbia Pictures paid $60m (£35m) for the rights to the rehearsal film, with the money going to Jackson's estate and AEG Live, which was due to stage his O2 concerts.

AEG Live is trying to recoup up to $30m (£18m) it spent preparing for the run of 50 shows.

AEG and the executors also want to capitalise on the interest by taking an exhibition of Jackson memorabilia on a global tour.

Michael Jackson memorabilia
Jackson has been number one in the album chart in the UK for seven weeks

That would coincide with the film and be on the same scale as AEG's King Tutankhamun exhibition, which has attracted six million visitors worldwide.

But that deal has stalled after objections from Jackson's mother Katherine. "It's not about making a quick buck," her lawyer Burt Levitch said.

AEG Live lawyer Kathy Jorrie recently said: "The longer we wait, the more time passes, frankly, the less interest there will be on the part of the public to come see it."

Jackson's Number Ones album is still number one in the UK and US, so the genuine desire to remember the man and his music is strong. But where is the line between paying tribute and cashing in?

"Whenever any big star dies, there's always going to be a mad rush to make a cheap buck," says Caspar Llewellyn-Smith, editor of the Observer Music Monthly magazine.

"These things can be done more or less sensitively. There's a lot of genuine affection for him and I understand people's desire to hold onto a piece of him."

Right now we're seeing a huge surge of requests for all the songs we control
David Schulhof
Evergreen Copyrights

Music publisher Evergreen Copyrights, which co-owns the rights to 25 Jackson songs, including Remember the Time and Dangerous, says it has made $1m (£600,000) from rising record sales since the star's death.

"Right now we're seeing a huge surge of requests for all the songs we control, for everything from movies to television shows to tons of merchandising," says Evergreen co-chief executive David Schulhof.

"The estate of Michael Jackson wants to capitalise on all this momentum right now."

Evergreen also controls the catalogues of other posthumously prolific musicians including rapper Tupac Shakur and English singer-songwriter Nick Drake.

Mr Schulhof says the most important thing is to "preserve the integrity" of the artist, because otherwise the value of their music and products will soon decline.

He has licensed Jackson songs for many ventures in the past two weeks, but has also turned down lots more that were deemed tacky or that might jeopardise future sales, he says.

"If you sell out in the short term, then you sacrifice the long term. All of the estates we work with, they want to monetise the assets, just like we do.

"But it's got to be done in a careful and deliberated way. We get a lot of requests that may be grotesque in nature or they may be obscene. If it's not a tasteful use of the song, then we're going to deny it."

Whatever comes our way, Jackson, like Elvis, will be with us for many years to come.

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