Some birthday present: 30 years after his death, John Lennon is about to have one of his best years ever.
With remastered releases of the former Beatle’s eight solo albums, new compilations, new films and new licensing deals, the estate of John Lennon — who would have been 70 on Saturday — looks to make tens of millions without releasing almost anything anyone hasn’t heard before.
Here's what's new:
— “Double Fantasy Stripped Down,” a new, rawer version of the album Lennon and Ono released less than a month before his death, released Tuesday and already #17 on Amazon;
— An 11-CD "Signature Box" — all of the solo albums, plus two discs of rare Lennon demos and a 65-page booklet — that goes for about $150;
— A limited edition, white-bound multimedia “John Lennon — Book of Vision” with prints of album art, the eight solo CDS, for $124.99;
— Two versions of the "Power to the People" greatest-hits compilation, one for $17; another, for $25 that includes a DVD of Lennon videos;
— A "Gimme Some Truth" four-CD collection of hits and more, for $38.
And that's just the music. Also coming up, “Nowhere Man," a biopic of Lennon’s youth starring “Kick-Ass'” Aaron Johnson and distributed by the Weinstein Co., out on Friday; a new “LennoNYC” documentary; a coffee-table book; a limited-edition Gibson guitar, retailing for nearly $11,000; and, playing off Lennon the author and poet, a Mont Blanc pen series including a very limited edition of only … yes … 70 coming out on his actual birthday for $27,000.
“Between last year’s Beatles remasters and now the Lennon remasters and everything else, this is going to be one of the most profitable years Yoko and the estate have had in a while,” one music industry insider told TheWrap, “and they’ve had some pretty good years.”
Indeed, in its 2009 Dead Celebrities list, Forbes brought Lennon in at number seven with $15 million. That’s nowhere near the $350 million that Yves Saint Laurent posthumously made to surge to number one that year. But, in fact, with the same position in the 2008 list and $6 million more in revenue over the year before, it is a sign of Lennon’s resilience as a moneymaker and cultural icon.
On average, with the constant appeal, to baby boomers and others, of the Fab Four and their former leader and the refurbishment of product, Lennon has made about $10 million a year. In 2009 alone, without any new or recycled product, he sold 109,000 albums in 2009, and 155,000 in 2008, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
His best seller has been “Lennon Legend,” which came out in 1997, with sales of 1.8 million. Unsurprisingly, year after year there is a spike in sales of the compilation around Lennon’s birthday.
“Even in today’s bad climate, catalogue is still a steady moneymaker,” a music biz executive says. “EMI got a great bounce off the Beatles remasters, and they’re hoping with a little hype from Lennon’s birthday to do the same here.”
It seems like a newly discovered track or demo or compilation has come out almost every year since Lennon's murder in 1980, starting with “Milk and Honey,” 1984’s posthumous release of material from the sessions of 1980’s comeback “Double Fantasy” album. Among the others: greatest hits collections like “Lennon Legend,” 2001’s “Instant Karma: All-Time Greatest Hits” and 2005’s “Working Cass Hero: The Definitive Lennon” and the 2006 “Remember,” sold only at Starbucks. A four-disc "Anthology" was released in 1998.
Also, unlike the Fab Four, Lennon’s music has long been accessible online, being sold at iTunes, Amazon and other digital music outlets.
“Smart brand extensions build off of core brand attributes,” says Larry Vincent, group director for Strategy at Siegel+Gale.“ If you consider John Lennon a brand, those brand attributes are probably creativity and authenticity — that’s why he's one of the poster children for the baby boom generation.”
Even Yoko is doing her bit.
No longer vilified as the woman who broke up the Beatles, Ono is now celebrated as a musical force unto herself as well as the gatekeeper of the Lennon flame. Iggy Pop, rapper RZA and Lady Gaga, among others, joined Yoko and son Sean onstage in a jamboree of her music for several recent shows in L.A. Expectantly, each evening ended with a star-studded version of “Give Peace a Chance” and calls from Ono to a cheering crowd that “John was in the house.”
Maybe … or at the bank.