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Who made a fortune off of Whitney Houston’s death?

Published time: February 16, 2012 20:27
Edited time: February 17, 2012 01:00
Whitney Houston performs at the Pre-Grammy Gala & Salute to Industry Icons with Clive Davis honoring David Geffen held in Beverly Hills, California, February 12, 2011 (Reuters / Phil McCarten)

Whitney Houston performs at the Pre-Grammy Gala & Salute to Industry Icons with Clive Davis honoring David Geffen held in Beverly Hills, California, February 12, 2011 (Reuters / Phil McCarten)

It hasn’t been a week since pop star Whitney Houston was found dead in California and her private funeral — scheduled to be live streamed over the Internet — is still in the process of being planned.

­But in those short few days, her label, Sony Music, has already made millions off the singers death. They aren't the only ones, either.

Tribute concerts, super sappy tweets and an incident in the UK where a grieving fan accidently set her house on fire. That’s just a sampling of what’s happened this week. Things haven’t been entirely ominous, though.

Album sales figures were released by Billboard on Wednesday, and for those invested in the music career of Whitney Houston, her death is doing wonders to their bank accounts. "I Will Always Love You,” a 1992 hit for the singer has landed on the Billboard Hot 100 within the top 10, nearly two decades after it was released.

Further down the list, two other hits for Houston have seen recent record sales propel her back onto the charts.

Houston’s best-of album, Whitney: The Greatest Hits, re-entered the Billboard 200 chart at number six for the tracking week that ended February 12. Houston passed away unexpectedly only a day before those figures were collected, February 11.

Compared with sales for her last week alive, the Greatest Hits album saw a surge in sales figures to the tune of 10,419 percent. "I Will Always Love You" saw sales go up 6,723 percent compared to the week before, reports Neilsen SoundScan.

Houston’s funeral is still two days away, but some parties are already celebrating her legacy thanks to her untimely demise. In a music industry that relies on reaping profits from the performers while alive, the biz is already being rejuvenated thanks to the resurgence in sales.

Within hours of Houston’s death being reported, the industry acted not unlike what you’d expect from Hollywood by capitalizing on her before the body was even cold. Another hits album, “The Ultimate Collection,” saw a price hike of 60 percent in the UK moments after she died. Another compilation, "The Greatest Hits" went from about $12.50 to $15.67 in mere moments.

According to figures in the US, domestically that album was sold 64,000 times in the single day after her death.

UK news outlet The Guardian was quick to notice the increase, which some insist came within half an hour of her death. “The change happened when Sony Music, which owns the rights to much of Houston's back catalogue, increased the wholesale price of The Ultimate Collection," The Guardian's Josh Halliday wrote. "This automatically boosted the retail price of the popular album, although Apple is responsible setting the price paid by music fans."

After publishing the article, Sony Music responded. Their explanation, of course, was that it was a mistake.

"Whitney Houston product was mistakenly mispriced on the UK iTunes store on Sunday," Sony explained. "When discovered, the mistake was immediately corrected. We apologize for any offense caused."

Of course, given that her sales saw an increase in the tens of thousands that day, an adjustment lasting only for minutes might have been enough to make bank for one of the biggest names in music while the industry continues to find solutions for plummeting sales they blame on online piracy.

Tim Worstall, a contributer to Forbes, said whether they meant to or not, Sony acted accordingly.

"According to basic Econ 101 of course they should have raised the price following Houston’s death. We all know that the music would fly off the shelves (umm, given that this is iTunes, off the servers) because we’ve seen the same happen recently with Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse,” writes Worstall. “And yes, when things are in high demand you should indeed raise the price of them,"

Along with Sony, though, others are seeing money signs over the death of Ms. Houston.

Dolly Parton, the iconic country music legend, has already discussed the expected dollars she will see soon enough. "I Will Always Love You,” the 1992-hit for Houston, was penned by the country singer back in the 1970s. Upon Houston’s rendition two decades later, Parton profited handsomely from record sales and joked to CNN only last month that it afforded her "a lot of cheap wigs.”

"Mine is only one of the millions of hearts broken over the death of Whitney Houston,” Parton said in the days after Houston’s death. “I will always be grateful and in awe of the wonderful performance she did on my song and I can truly say from the bottom of my heart, 'Whitney, I will always love you. You will be missed.'"

Also expected to generate sales this week is Houston’s rendition of the US national anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner.” Her 90s performance become an international hit and was re-released after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Even alive, though, that recording caused controversy at the time. A Florida symphony that provided the orchestral arrangement for the track was unaware of the re-release and debated going after Houston’s camp at the time for missed royalties. Even though, however, they said that they had to put up a fight to get proper recognition a decade earlier when the song was first released.

Francis Scott Key, the war hero that wrote the words to the anthem, probably wont see any profits either this time. Much like Houston, Key is also dead. In that case, though, his War of 1812 cohorts presumably waited until after his death to rake in the dollars.

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