NEW YORK (Billboard) - A year ago this coming March, headlines trumpeted the $200 million-plus recording deal the estate of Michael Jackson signed with Sony Music Entertainment
Encompassing 10 releases of Jackson music through 2017, the contract counted as its first release the double-CD "This Is It" soundtrack.
Released in October 2009, "This Is It" sold 1.6 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Jackson's superstar status and fans' seemingly insatiable appetite, the general consensus was that an album of previously unreleased tracks would sell just as well.
But that doesn't seem to be the case.
"Michael", the first album of new material from Jackson, peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 charts. Lead single "Hold My Hand," featuring Akon, peaked at No. 39 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 33 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, selling 304,000, according to SoundScan.
And while in its first five weeks "Michael" has sold a respectable -- especially in a tough industry climate -- 434,000, the figure pales next to that of "This Is It," which sold 890,000 in its first five weeks.
"Visions," a three-DVD boxed set featuring 40 music videos by the late pop star, has sold well for a boxed set, moving 85,000 units since its November 2010 release.
"The overall response to 'Hold My Hand' surprised me," said Chuck Atkins, vice president of programming for R&B station WNOV Milwaukee. "I thought top 40 and (R&B) would show it more love. But they left it up to urban adult contemporary, and that's just not enough to keep it alive."
Adding that the controversy over Jackson's vocals had a negative impact, Atkins believes any future new Jackson songs will "suffer the same way."
Rob Miller, at rhythmic adult contemporary radio station WKTU New York, said lack of exposure on many pop stations probably hurt sales efforts more than the debate over Jackson's voice.
" 'Hold My Hand' sounds so different than the bulk of music playing on top 40 radio," he said. "But considering the circumstances, I think the album did good. If Michael had been able to tour, reconnect with his audience, the outcome would've been more significant."
Sources say Sony Music Entertainment shipped 3 million "Michael" albums worldwide, of which 900,000 were designated for the United States. But based on the album's first five weeks in the U.S. market, Sony looks like it has an inventory liability problem on its hands.
Sales of "Michael" for the week ending Jan 16 shrank to 27,000 units.
There hasn't been any word from Sony -- whose executives were unavailable for comment -- as to whether a new single is in the wings. But if the album doesn't generate another hit and the record keeps selling roughly 10,000 units per week, then the album has a nine-month supply in the marketplace, which might mean retailers could eventually start sending the label returns.
The situation may be better outside the United States, where Jackson is generally more popular.
Currently in the pipeline are several more Jackson projects. Ubisoft, publisher of the popular game "Just Dance," follows its November 23 release of "Michael Jackson: The Experience" for the Wii with a Kinect version for Xbox 360 and PlayStation in April.
According to Ubisoft brand manager Andy Simpson, the Kinect version's "innovative camera technology captures the players and puts them in the Michael Jackson universe on their TV screens."
October sees the launch of "Michael Jackson: The Immortal Tour" in Montreal, a Cirque du Soleil production based on Jackson's music and career. Additional stops also include Los Angeles and New York, with other dates expected. A permanent show in Las Vegas is scheduled to open in 2013.
(Additional reporting by Ed Christman)
(Editing by Jill Serjeant)
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