Lennon Inc. Business is booming, 30 years on
As music fans prepare to mark the anniversary of the Beatle's murder, Andrew Johnson reports on his ever-growing financial legacy
Sunday 05 December 2010
The 30th anniversary on Wednesday of John Lennon's death will see thousands of fans holding a vigil at a new memorial in Liverpool in tribute to the former Beatle. Increasingly, however, Lennon's legacy is not about music: it's about money. Lennon Inc is an industry fuelled by collectors, fans, his family and his native Liverpool.
This year Lennon came fifth in Forbes magazine's annual list of the top dead earners, with an annual income of £10m to add to the £400m-plus fortune inherited by his wife, Yoko Ono. The Lennon franchise includes heritage trails; museums; exhibitions – and sales – of his doodlings; the repackaging of his back catalogue; a thriving business in tribute acts and musicals; biopics; and friends and relatives keeping the name alive.
£350,000: The price that handwritten lyrics to "I'm Only Sleeping" could raise at auction later this month.
Lennon is the number one seller in rock'n'roll memorabilia, according to Stephen Maycock of Bonhams, who is handling the sale. In June handwritten lyrics to "A Day in the Life" sold for $1.2m (£810,000) in New York. Mr Maycock first sold the same piece of paper while with Sotheby's in 1991 for £44,000.
"That gives you an idea in the increase in the market," he said. "In terms of memorabilia Lennon is significantly number one. There is some sort of magical aura about him."
One million: The number of people who visit Liverpool each year to follow the Beatles trail. They will spend about £48m, and the figure doesn't take into account numbers for the two-month Tribute Season in the city to mark the 70th anniversary of Lennon's birth in October and the anniversary of his death this week.
Next year the new Museum of Liverpool will open with many Lennon artefacts. Richard Hector-Jones, a spokesman for the Beatles Story attraction in Liverpool, said they had "expanded enormously" with visitors from America and Brazil.
£4,700: The going rate for a print of an original John Lennon drawing.
Yoko started making prints of her husband's work in batches of 300 in 1986. According to Jonathan Poole, an exhibition organiser and salesman for Bag One Arts Inc, the company Yoko set up to sell the art, prices range from about £500 to almost £5,000.
Critics may dismiss the work as "felt-tip comic cuts" but Mr Poole argues: "He's an icon. These images show his love for his family and for Yoko and, most importantly, his wit."
Two million: Beatles songs sold on iTunes in the first week of their release last month. Last year the remastered Beatles CDs sold 2.25 million copies within days of release, while sales of Beatles music for the Rock Band game topped 1.7 million within four months of its release. Lennon's solo back catalogue was also released in remastered form in October.
Film, theatre, books
Three: The number of musicals featuring Lennon's music currently in production. Rain – A Tribute to the Beatles is in the middle of a 12-week run on Broadway; Cirque du Soleil's Love – acrobatic performances to the music of the Beatles – is at the Mirage in Las Vegas; and The Sessions, a new musical about the early Abbey Road recording sessions, is to have a preview in Liverpool on Friday.
A search for John Lennon in the books section of Amazon brings up 5,000 results. The most recent tome, Life, Times and Assassination, suggests he was killed by the CIA. And this Wednesday, BBC4 is repeating its Lennon Naked drama, starring Christopher Eccleston.
Friends and family
£500m: Yoko Ono's estimated fortune. Yoko is the mistress of the Lennon estate, controlling his artwork and, as a key shareholder of Apple Corps, his back catalogue.
An exhibition of Julian and Cynthia Lennon's collection of personal items, White Feather: The Spirit of John Lennon, which "tells the emotional and intimate story of the Lennon family", was opened in Liverpool by the singer's first wife and eldest son earlier this year. Sean, the musician son of John and Yoko, is the musical director of Yoko's Plastic Ono Band.
Lennon's half-sister Julia Baird has also written a memoir, and friends and associates regularly pop up, such as Astrid Kirchherr, whose exhibition of Beatles photos is on in Liverpool.
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