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Death-related publicity as informational advertising: evidence from the music industry

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The sales of books, DVDs, and music albums frequently increase substantially after the death of an artist. Yet, the mechanism behind this stylized fact remains unclear. In this paper, we examine whether after-death sales increases reflect primarily an affective reaction of existing customers or informative advertising for previously uninformed new customers. In our main study, we use weekly sales data for 446 music albums of 77 artists who died between 1992 and 2010. We show that album sales increase on average by 54.1 % after death and that the relative increase in sales is higher for the artist’s better albums. This suggests that death-related publicity serves primarily as informational advertising that attracts new customers who buy the artist’s best albums after death. Complementary evidence from a survey study with more than 2,000 participants confirms this interpretation and shows that information-based motives are relatively more important for after-death consumption than affect-based motives.

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  1. In Section 5, we provide empirical evidence that this is indeed the case.

  2. When technologies differ, there might be utility from owning an album twice. For example, a consumer who owns a specific album on vinyl might later buy the same album in compact disk format. However, after-death sales increases are not restricted to artists whose albums became available in additional formats over time. For example, no technological change occurred between when singer Amy Winehouse released her first album in October 2003 and her death in 2011. Still, she sold 110,000 albums in the US during the 8 days that followed her death. In comparison, she moved 58,000 in all of 2010, and 44,000 in 2011 before her death. ( 2012)

  3. The reason for this restriction was financial.

  4. We emphasize that the findings illustrated in Table 2 are robust when performing several sensitivity tests, such as a change in the treatment window (i.e., using 2 or 6 months before and after death), and the exclusion of potential suicides (Elliot Smith, Epic Soundtrack), bands (Beat Farmers, Brainiac, Coil, Silkworm, The Bee Gee’s, and The Grateful Dead), and superstars (2Pac, Aaliyah, Michael Jackson, Notorious B.I.G., Ray Charles). The results are available from the authors.

  5. Due to a coding mistake, a small number of participants was able to complete the survey multiple times (at most three times). We were able to filter multiple entries by means of the unique Amazon Mechanical Turk WorkerId.

  6. For Michael Jackson and Lou Reed, we also included all studio albums and some Best-of compilations for the Jackson Five and the Velvet Underground, respectively.

  7. The marginal effects for Information, Affect, and BDPurchase are 0.078, 0.061, and 0.162, respectively. When running separate analyses for each artist, we always find positive, statistically significant effects from Information and Affect on after-death purchases. For Michael Jackson und Lou Reed, we also find that the effect from Information is significantly larger than the effect from Affect (p < 0.10 in both cases). The detailed results are available from the authors.


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Correspondence to Leif Brandes.

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Brandes, L., Nüesch, S. & Franck, E. Death-related publicity as informational advertising: evidence from the music industry. Mark Lett 27, 143–157 (2016).

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