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The Top Earning Celebrities, Dead and Alive

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Wealth does not always follow fame, but when properly monetized, stardom can be a powerful tool for building a fortune.

The act of turning one’s self into a marketing machine is epitomized by 21-year-old Kylie Jenner, who was the fourth highest earning celebrity in 2018. Leveraging her massive social media following, Jenner has turned Kylie Cosmetics into a force to be reckoned with. Recently, Forbes valued her company at over $900 million.

Today, we look at not only the world’s top earning living celebrities, but also the estates of the celebrities who are no longer with us as well.

Fame and Fortune

With a nickname like “Money”, it comes as no surprise that 2018’s top earning celebrity was Floyd Mayweather. The boxer’s bouts in 2015 and 2017 are still the top earning pay-per-view fights of all time, with the respective payouts propelling him to the top of the celebrity earnings list. His most recent opponent – Conor McGregor – also cashed in big, ranking 12th on the celebrity rich list.

Here is a full look at last year’s top earning celebrities:

top earning celebrities
View a high resolution version of this graphic.

Many celebrities earn big sums of money on specific contracts, so it makes sense that the top 10 shuffles a lot from year to year. Despite this, soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo is the sole celebrity to remain on this list for every year covered by the visualization.

Ed Sheeran’s Divide album was a runaway success earning him $110 million last year. Not only did the singer sell 1.1 million albums – an impressive feat in the digital age – he was the most streamed artist of 2017.

One somewhat surprising entry into the top 10 is Judy Sheindlin – better known as Judge Judy. Sheindlin reaped a huge windfall after selling her extensive 5,200-episode library to CBS.

Posthumous Profits

Some celebrities are so iconic that their influence extends well beyond their own lifespan.

Michael Jackson’s music is still thrilling listeners around the world, and as a result, his catalog is raking in the posthumous profits. In 2018, the late singer’s estate earned more money than any living celebrity, adding to the $2 billion already amassed since his passing in 2009.

Below is a full look at the top earning dead celebrities:

top earning dead celebrities
View a high resolution version of this graphic.

For the first time since 2006, Albert Einstein has fallen out of the top 10. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem owns the rights to Einstein’s likeness, and in the aughts the “Baby Einstein” brand helped them (and Disney) amass a fortune. The popularity of the Baby Einstein brand is waning, but other licencing deals could bump the famous physicist back into the list at some point in the future.

No Business Like Show Business

Even celebrities who passed away decades ago can continue earning a shocking amount of money. While income streams like song royalties continue rolling in automatically, some savvy companies purchase estates from family members and take the marketing of deceased personalities to the next level.

Companies like Authentic Brands Group, have turned timeless icons like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley into full-fledged brands generating tens of millions of dollars per year through licencing and royalties.

Artists like Bob Marley and Dr. Seuss produced a body of work that still captures our imaginations today, so it makes sense that their estates continue to profit as time goes on.

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Misc

Chart-Toppers: 50 Years of the Best-Selling Music Artists

This mesmerizing video visualizes the best-selling music artists from 1969 to 2019 and highlights how long they held onto the top spot.

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Chart-Toppers: 50 Years of the Best-Selling Music Artists

Fame, fortune, and adoring fans—this is often the dream-turned-reality for the world’s most popular music artists.

Thanks to their relatability and creative prowess, these artists have not only boasted longevity in their record sales, but they’ve also dominated the charts year after year.

Today’s video from Data is Beautiful visualizes the world’s best-selling music artists from the past 50 years (1969 to 2019) and highlights the length of their reigns.

Do you see your favorite artist or group in the mix?

The Best Selling Artists, By Decade

Of all of the artists in the past half-century, two stand out: Michael Jackson and Eminem. Michael Jackson has the highest cumulative number of years in the top spot (~12 years), while Eminem holds the longest continuous best-selling artist slot (8.5 years).

Let’s dive into each decade to uncover defining moments and key technology advancements that pushed the art of music into exciting new areas.

top selling music artists

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1970s

This era of music is defined by the emergence of the rock genre, with artists like The Eagles and Led Zeppelin, the latter of which is widely considered a forefather of hard rock and heavy metal.

The Beatles became known, not just for their music, but for pushing the envelope with how they recorded their music. They used analog sound editing techniques—utilizing a sound effect “bank” to record overtop finished music tracks to add depth and texture. This left a huge mark on the music world, and in many ways influenced how modern music is recorded.

The introduction of 8-tracks and cassette tapes enabled people to play albums in their vehicles, opening up new possibilities for on-the-go entertainment.

1980s

Enter the age of electronic music—synthesizers, theremins, electronic samplers, and electronic drum kits popped up in the music scene, most predominantly in the United Kingdom and the United States. The German-based group Kraftwerk was one of the first to pioneer using a synthesizer in their sets.

For example, one of the reasons for Michael Jackson’s success was that the technology of the time allowed for much wider distribution at much lower costs. In addition, Thriller was one of the first albums recorded on compact discs (CDs), which were introduced in 1982.

The MTV era (launched 1981) also significantly impacted the sales of albums, as music now offered both visual and audio experiences—and broadcast directly into people’s homes.

1990s

A predominant factor of the 90s music scene was the explosion of popular music artists being commissioned to record the theme songs for blockbuster films.

The most notable artists and their corresponding blockbuster movies of the time include:

  • Elton John ─ The Lion King
  • Celine Dion ─ Titanic
  • Whitney Houston ─ Bodyguard
  • Bryan Adams ─ Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves
  • Madonna ─ Evita

While the 1990s marked a decade of great variety in top-selling artists, it was also the peak of the music industry’s sales, at a whopping $21.5 billion in 1999—a figure not since repeated.

2000s

Eminem dominated 2000s record sales, but the decade also featured brief stints from the Backstreet Boys in 2000 and Rihanna in 2009.

Eminem helped to launch hip hop music into the mainstream. Being one of the most controversial best-selling artists of all time, he pushed genre boundaries through his technical prowess, wordsmithing, and relatability to wider audiences.

The 21st century also brought music streaming services such as Spotify to the forefront, forever altering how people listen to their favorite artists and bands.

2010s

Only three artists have hit the best-selling artist spot in the current decade: Rihanna, Drake, and Luis Fonsi—the Puerto Rican singer most well known for his hit single “Despacito”.

In 2016, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified that Drake was the first music artist ever to reach #1 through streaming platform sales and downloads, instead of through physical album sales.

According to RIAA, streaming revenues jumped from almost half of all music industry sales in 2017, to over 75% of sales in 2018—with $4.6 billion in total record sales as of Q1 2018.

The Future Of Music

Musicians are a creative breed, continuously experimenting with new instruments, sound effects, and recording styles.

Some artists are even going so far as use only an iPhone to record their work—showcasing the modern-era ability to record high-fidelity quality and achieve studio-like results.

With a new decade just around the corner, we may see even more possibilities for technology to revamp how we access our favorite tunes—and how artists distribute them to their fanbase.

Who might become the next Beatles, Michael Jackson, or Drake?

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Markets

Walmart’s Domination of the U.S. Grocery Market

If you want to buy groceries, in some places Walmart is the only game in town. Here’s a look at Walmart’s domination of the U.S. grocery market.

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Walmart’s Domination of the U.S. Grocery Market

One wouldn’t expect the grocery department of a big box retailer to spark debate, but Walmart’s high market concentration in the grocery space is doing just that.

By now, Walmart’s rise to the top of the retail pyramid is well documented. The Supercenters that dot the American landscape have had a dramatic ripple effect on surrounding communities, often resulting in decreased competition and reduced selection for consumers. Today, in some communities, Walmart takes in a whopping $19 for every $20 spent on groceries.

Today’s map, based on a report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, looks at which places in America are most reliant on Walmart to put food on the table.

The Weight of Walmart

Walmart has an unprecedented amount of control over the food system, now capturing a quarter of every single dollar spent on groceries in the United States.

Walmart isn’t just a major player — in some cases it’s become the only game in town. In a few of the communities listed in the report, Walmart commands a 90% market share and higher.

Here’s a breakdown of the top 20 towns dominated by Walmart in America:

RankMetro/RegionPopulationWalmart Market Share
#1Atchison, Kansas16,58095%
#2Portales, New Mexico19,73095%
#3Sterling, Colorado22,06891%
#4Deming, New Mexico24,69990%
#5Guymon, Oklahoma21,38590%
#6North Platte, Nebraska37,04387%
#7Wahpeton, N.D.– Minnesota23,03684%
#8Coffeyville, Kansas33,43483%
#9Othello, Washington19,80683%
#10Bismarck, North Dakota135,65483%
#11Helena-West Helena, Arkansas20,17680%
#12Altus, Oklahoma25,93177%
#13Parsons, Kansas20,76177%
#14Miami, Oklahoma32,26077%
#15Sweetwater, Texas15,10177%
#16Grenada, Mississippi21,70676%
#17Huron, South Dakota18,08275%
#18Greensburg, Indiana26,71174%
#19Clarksdale, Mississippi25,08574%
#20Dumas, Texas22,48574%

While it’s more likely for a small town to become dominated by a single grocer, Walmart’s clout isn’t exclusive to rural America. Even in Springfield, Missouri — with a regional population of half a million people — the big box retailer still boasts a sizable market share of 66%.

Super Market Concentration

Under guidelines established by the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, markets in which one corporation captures more than 50% of revenue are defined as “highly concentrated.” Walmart’s market share meets or exceeds this measure in 43 metropolitan areas and 160 smaller markets around the United States.

In some states, this trend is even more pronounced. In Oklahoma, for example, 86% of the state’s population lives in a region where Walmart has the majority market share in the grocery sector. In Arkansas — the home state of the megaretailer — half the population lives in this “highly concentrated” grocery market situation.

This degree of market concentration means that a retailer could cut certain products or manipulate prices without fear of losing customers. Worse yet, a company could close up shop and leave thousands of people without adequate grocery access.

An Interesting Caveat

There is a flip side to this story, however.

Walmart has shown a willingness to expand their grocery business to areas that were considered “food deserts” (i.e. low-income areas without easy access to a supermarket).

In a 2011 initiative, the retailer committed to open or expand 1,500 supermarkets across America to help give more people access to fresh food.

With the ground game clearly won, America’s largest grocer is now focused on dominating the next frontier of the grocery market – delivery. Stiff competition from companies like Amazon and Instacart will keep Walmart’s online market concentration in check for the time being.

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