January 12, 2016 / 2:08 AM / 5 years ago

'Blackstar' sales soar as Bowie's musical and financial legacy endures

LOS ANGELES/LONDON (Reuters) - Sales of David Bowie’s last album - released two days before his death from cancer - soared on Monday along with downloads of his greatest hits, testimony to the powerful appeal of a pioneer in pop culture and the music business.

Tributes are seen next to a mural of David Bowie in Brixton, south London, January 11, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Streaming giant Spotify said streams of Bowie’s music were up 2,700 percent on Monday, while the Official Charts Company in the UK said Bowie’s “Blackstar” album was headed to the top spot on the charts with sales of 43,000 since its Friday release.

Bowie, who produced hits such as “Ziggy Stardust” during a career featuring daringly androgynous displays of sexuality and glittering costumes, died at age 69 on Sunday.

He was the first recording artist to sell bonds, known as ‘Bowie Bonds,’ against his intellectual property and backed by future earnings of his music.

The bonds, which are now paid off, were bought by Prudential Insurance in 1997 for $55 million, and let Bowie retain ownership of his work rather than selling the copyright.

The model, constructed by investor David Pullman, was later adopted by artists such as James Brown and the Isley Brothers.

In an interview on Monday, Pullman estimated that Bowie’s estate could be valued upward of $100 million, in part because Bowie owned 100 percent of his music.

“He was smart enough to have confidence in himself. Most artists sell themselves short, and they don’t hold out for the rights,” Pullman said. “He was able to retain his legacy. His songs were his baby.”

The move also spared Bowie taxes he would have faced had he sold the rights, Pullman said.

“The real annuity for an artist’s estate is owning copyright and catalog. That’s the revenue stream,” said Bill Werde, chief executive of entertainment agency Fenton and former editor of music trade publication Billboard.

Still, he said, Bowie bonds were not all about money. “This was more about Bowie’s blood, sweat and tears, and the idea that someone else owned part of it never sat right with him,” Werde added.


The critically praised “Blackstar” was the top-selling album on Apple’s (AAPL.O) iTunes U.S. and UK platforms on Monday morning. Bowie’s longtime producer, Tony Visconti, called the album the singer’s “parting gift.”

The 2002 “Best of Bowie” compilation album was the second most popular on the U.S. site, outpacing Adele’s blockbuster album “25.”

Bowie’s 1972 album “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” was in fourth place on the U.S. iTunes platform, according to the site. Apple does not generally release iTunes sales or download figures.

On Amazon’s (AMZN.O) U.S. and UK websites, “Blackstar” was the No. 1 “best seller” on Monday.

In a music video accompanying the album’s first single, “Lazarus,” the singer is shown in a hospital bed with bandages around his eyes.

“Look up here, I’m in heaven,” Bowie sings. “I’ve got scars that can’t be seen. I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen. Everybody knows me now. Look up here, man, I’m in danger. I’ve got nothing left to lose.”

Additional reporting by Amy Tennery, Jill Serjeant and Ross Kerber; Editing by Gareth Jones, Peter Henderson and Peter Cooney

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