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How Michael Jackson Bought the Publishing Rights to The Beatles Catalogue

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Getty

Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney first met and became friendly in the mid-1970s, when, according to Jackson, McCartney tried to sell him a song, "Girlfriend," for Jackson's upcoming solo album. Although it took a couple of years (and McCartney released the song first with Wings), the two hit it off, and over the next few years, they collaborated on a number of duets. The lead single off of Jackson’s smash album, Thriller (1982), was "The Girl Is Mine," a duet he penned while watching cartoons with McCartney. Likewise, McCartney’s album Pipes of Peace (1983) had two songs featuring Jackson, "The Man" and "Say Say Say." The two superstars even filmed a music video for "Say Say Say," playing traveling vaudevillians who peddle their "Mac and Jack Wonder Potion" to unsuspecting townspeople.

During this time, McCartney reportedly explained to Jackson about the lucrative nature of music publishing. For complex legal reasons, the Beatle had lost his stake in Northern Songs, the publishing company that he and John Lennon set up, in the late 1960s. Because he wasn’t profiting from his own songs’ publishing rights, McCartney told Jackson about how he had been purchasing other artists’ catalogues (such as Buddy Holly’s) as a business investment. McCartney explained to the future King of Pop that whoever owns the rights to a song’s lyrics and composition earns royalties every time that song plays on film, TV, the radio, in a commercial, or in a concert. According to McCartney, Jackson then jokingly told him "one day, I’ll own your songs."

With the help of his attorney John Branca, Jackson started buying the rights to '60s songs that he liked enough to dance to. In 1984, Branca told Jackson that music publishing company ATV was for sale. Owned by an Australian billionaire named Robert Holmes à Court, ATV owned the rights to 251 songs from the Beatles’ catalogue (as well as 4000 other songs and a library of sound effects). Branca asked Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, who ran Lennon’s estate, if she was interested in teaming up with McCartney to purchase ATV. Ono said no and reportedly gave her blessing for Jackson (rather than a corporation) to own the songs. Branca then asked McCartney’s lawyer if McCartney wanted to buy ATV, and his lawyer said the catalogue was too expensive.

Branca offered Holmes à Court $30 million for ATV, but other people—including Virgin’s Richard Branson and music industry executives Marty Bandier and Charles Koppelman—were also bidding on the company. Going against the counsel from his group of advisors (including businessman David Geffen), Jackson told Branca to offer $40 million. Holmes à Court still wanted more money, but Jackson stood firm in his desire to buy ATV. "You can’t put a price on a Picasso … you can’t put a price on these songs, there’s no value on them," Jackson reportedly said. "They’re the best songs that have ever been written."

Branca offered $45 million and did a handshake deal with Holmes à Court in April 1985, but the ATV owner backed out. Branca—along with competing bidders Bandier and Koppelman—traveled to London to try to finalize an agreement; to seal the deal, Branca promised Holmes à Court that Jackson would perform in a charity concert in Perth, Australia and exclude the Beatles tune "Penny Lane" from the deal (so Holmes à Court could give that song to his daughter). In August 1985, after months of negotiations, Jackson paid $47.5 million to buy ATV.

McCartney was not pleased to learn that his supposed friend bought the rights to his songs. He wrote letters to Jackson about the purchase, but Jackson dismissed them all by saying it was just business. "He won't even answer my letters, so we haven't talked and we don't have that great a relationship," McCartney said in 2001.

In 1995, Jackson sold 50 percent of ATV to Sony for $95 million, a sale that created the music publishing company Sony/ATV. Today, Sony/ATV owns the rights to millions of songs by everyone from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift. In March 2016, seven years after Jackson’s death, Sony/ATV agreed to pay $750 million to Jackson’s estate to buy out his 50 percent share of the company.

But for McCartney, it's been a long and winding road. Though he's said in the past that it wouldn't make sense for him to pay for his own work ("The trouble is I wrote those songs for nothing and buying them back at these phenomenal sums …" McCartney once explained. "I just can't do it."), his tune may have changed. On December 15, 2015, he filed a termination notice with the U.S. Copyright Office, the first step required for an artist to get back the publishing rights to their songs.

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Why a Readily Available Used Paperback Is Selling for Thousands of Dollars on Amazon
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iStock

At first glance, getting ahold of a copy of One Snowy Knight, a historical romance novel by Deborah MacGillivray, isn't hard at all. You can get the book, which originally came out in 2009, for a few bucks on Amazon. And yet according to one seller, a used copy of the book is worth more than $2600. Why? As The New York Times reports, this price disparity has more to do with the marketing techniques of Amazon's third-party sellers than it does the market value of the book.

As of June 5, a copy of One Snowy Knight was listed by a third-party seller on Amazon for $2630.52. By the time the Times wrote about it on July 15, the price had jumped to $2800. That listing has since disappeared, but a seller called Supersonic Truck still has a used copy available for $1558.33 (plus shipping!). And it's not even a rare book—it was reprinted in July.

The Times found similar listings for secondhand books that cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars more than their market price. Those retailers might not even have the book on hand—but if someone is crazy enough to pay $1500 for a mass-market paperback that sells for only a few dollars elsewhere, that retailer can make a killing by simply snapping it up from somewhere else and passing it on to the chump who placed an order with them.

Not all the prices for used books on Amazon are so exorbitant, but many still defy conventional economic wisdom, offering used copies of books that are cheaper to buy new. You can get a new copy of the latest edition of One Snowy Knight for $16.99 from Amazon with Prime shipping, but there are third-party sellers asking $24 to $28 for used copies. If you're not careful, how much you pay can just depend on which listing you click first, thinking that there's not much difference in the price of used books. In the case of One Snowy Knight, there are different listings for different editions of the book, so you might not realize that there's a cheaper version available elsewhere on the site.

An Amazon product listing offers a mass-market paperback book for $1558.33.
Screenshot, Amazon

Even looking at reviews might not help you find the best listing for your money. People tend to buy products with the most reviews, rather than the best reviews, according to recent research, but the site is notorious for retailers gaming the system with fraudulent reviews to attract more buyers and make their way up the Amazon rankings. (There are now several services that will help you suss out whether the reviews on a product you're looking at are legitimate.)

For more on how Amazon's marketplace works—and why its listings can sometimes be misleading—we recommend listening to this episode of the podcast Reply All, which has a fascinating dive into the site's third-party seller system.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Elsie Hui, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Sam's Club Brings $.99 Polish Hot Dogs to All Stores After They're Cut From Costco's Food Courts
Elsie Hui, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Elsie Hui, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In early July, Costco angered many customers with the announcement that its beloved Polish hot dog was being removed from the food court menu. If you're someone who believes cheap meat tastes best when eaten in a bulk retail warehouse, Sam's Club has good news: The competing big box chain has responded to Costco's news by promising to roll out Polish hot dogs in all its stores later this month, Business Insider reports.

The Polish hot dog has long been a staple at Costco. Like Costco's classic hot dog, the Polish dog was part of the food court's famously affordable $1.50 hot dog and a soda package. The company says the item is being cut in favor of healthier offerings, like açai bowls, organic burgers, and plant-based protein salads.

The standard hot dog and the special deal will continue to be available in stores, but customers who prefer the meatier Polish dog aren't satisfied. Fans immediately took their gripes to the internet—there's even a petition on Change.org to "Bring Back the Polish Dog!" with more than 6500 signatures.

Now Sam's Clubs are looking to draw in some of those spurned customers. Its version of the Polish dog will be sold for just $.99 at all stores starting Monday, July 23. Until now, the chain's Polish hot dogs had only been available in about 200 Sam's Club cafés.

It's hard to imagine the Costco food court will lose too many of its loyal followers from the menu change. Polish hot dogs may be getting axed, but the popular rotisserie chicken and robot-prepared pizza will remain.

[h/t Business Insider]

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