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Whitney Houston’s Album Sales Surge: Who Benefits From Her Death?

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Fans of Whitney Houston opened their wallets to express their sadness over the 48-year-old's sudden death last Saturday at the Beverly Hills Hilton. "Whitney: The Greatest Hits" album sold 64,000 copies in just 24 hours after news of Houston's death became viral, and more than 101,000 Houston albums have been purchased in the past week. Of the 101,000 albums sold, 91,000 were downloads. That record surpasses Houston's combined album sales of 97,000 for 2011 and 2012 (Jan. 1 to Feb. 10), according to Billboard. The "Greatest Hits" album moved into the Billboard 200 chart, taking the No. 6 spot for the week ending Feb. 12. Sales of the "Greatest Hits" album jumped 10,419 percent in the past week and could climb even higher when the current tracking week ends.

Zack O'Malley Greenburg, a staff writer at Forbes, says Houston "stands to gain potentially tens of millions of dollars from...artist royalties." In an interview with Jeff Macke on The Daily Ticker, O'Malley Greenburg explains that because Houston does not have writing credits for any of her songs, she will not share in the publishing royalties, therefore limiting the amount of money her estate can reap over the years. Whether or not Houston's estate can continue to profit from Houston's international stardom depends on who manages her estate, according to O'Malley Greenburg. Michael Jackson, who died on June 25, 2009, continues to bring in millions of dollars every year, partly because of his 50 percent stake in the Sony/ATV publishing catalog. The estate's managers have actively pursued projects that capitalize on Jackson's talents, including a collaboration with Cirque Du Soleil. Houston's estate will collect artist royalty fees, mostly from overseas sales and radio spins, which O'Malley Greenburg estimates at $1.50 per album.

Like Jackson, Houston's financial struggles were well documented and the boom in her artist royalties will likely go toward paying off her debts. Forbes publishes an annual list of the "Top-Earning Dead Musicians" and while Houston may not bring in the same money as Jackson's estate, she could rival Jimi Hendrix, whose estate earned $7 million last year. The King of Pop raked in $170 million in 2011, beating out top-selling groups like U2. Sales of Jackson's songs and albums soared in the six months after his death. It's been reported that 30 million Jackson albums were bought worldwide during that short time period.

Sony came under fire this week for raising the prices of Houston's albums on Apple's UK iTunes. Sony later issued an apology, saying her albums were "mistakenly mispriced" and it "immediately" corrected the price hike. "We apologize for any offense caused," Sony said.

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