Mixed signals for Michael Jackson album sales

LONDON Mon Oct 26, 2009 8:24am EDT

A woman signs a tribute wall for Michael Jackson at the L.A. Live complex near where people are lining up overnight for the opportunity to purchase tickets for a special showing of the ''Michael Jackson's This Is It'' movie in Los Angeles, California, September 25, 2009. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

A woman signs a tribute wall for Michael Jackson at the L.A. Live complex near where people are lining up overnight for the opportunity to purchase tickets for a special showing of the ''Michael Jackson's This Is It'' movie in Los Angeles, California, September 25, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Danny Moloshok

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LONDON (Reuters) - The new Michael Jackson record "This Is It" hits stores around the world on Monday, kicking off a week of money-spinning events dedicated to the "king of pop," but the outlook for the two-disc album is decidedly mixed.

Experts predict that it will top charts in several key countries, most notably the biggest U.S. market, but with album sales in seemingly terminal decline, even relatively modest returns can secure the coveted number one slot.

The fact that fans have bought nearly six million Jackson albums in that country alone since the singer died suddenly in June of a prescription drug overdose is likely to temper demand for what is essentially another greatest hits collection.

Much depends on whether millions of people expected to flock to the accompanying "This Is It" movie, which hits theatres on Wednesday, feel moved to buy the record too, experts said.

"It's very hard to pinpoint what it will do, particularly due to the fact that a lot of these songs have already sold well this year," said Silvio Pietroluongo, director of charts at Billboard magazine which compiles the weekly rankings.

"Talking to the labels and industry insiders there is a huge sweep of opinion of anywhere between 200-300,000 and 500,000 albums sold in the first week," he told Reuters.

Pietroluongo predicted that should be enough to guarantee Jackson another Billboard number one in the United States.

FILM GENERATES MORE HYPE

This Is It goes on sale in most of the world on Monday and in North America from Tuesday, the eve of the eagerly anticipated movie of the same name.

The film features footage of Jackson rehearsing for his planned residency at London's O2 Arena, which was to have been his farewell to live performance after years of living as a virtual recluse.

The film, released by Sony's Columbia Pictures, could make more than $600 million in its limited two-week run, industry executives have predicted. The album, however, is unlikely to create the same buzz.

Its cause was not helped by a PR fiasco earlier this month when the pop star's first posthumous single "This Is It," which appears on the album, turned out to be an old song recorded 18 years ago by an obscure Puerto Rican singer.

The co-author of that tune threatened to sue Jackson's estate and he was quickly granted 50 percent of the copyright.

There have also been negative early reviews, with Britain's Independent newspaper giving the record one star out of five and calling it "a shoddy apology for an album."

In Britain, retailers said This Is It looked destined to become one of the big albums of the key Christmas period, but there were factors that could dampen demand.

"At the time of his death the response was very emotional," said Gennaro Castaldo, spokesman for the HMV music retail chain.

"But there is a question as to whether that is as potent this time around. There is not that emotional intensity."

This Is It also goes on sale at around the same time as albums by other popular artists, including Cheryl Cole ("3 Words") and Robbie Williams ("Reality Killed the Video Star").

This Is It, released by Sony Music, includes Jackson hits like Wanna Be Startin' Somethin', Thriller and Beat It and two versions (original and orchestral) of This Is It.

It also features demo versions of Wanna Be Startin' Somethin', She's Out of My Life and Beat It as well as a poem entitled "Planet Earth." Sony Pictures and Sony Music are units of Sony Corp.

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