One of the biggest talking points in pop these past couple of years has been how successful old musicians have become at making money. Swathes of stars have simply auctioned off their past: rather than collecting the royalties on their publishing and their recordings year by year, they have just sold the whole lot. Last year Bruce Springsteen collected half a billion dollars for selling the rights to his recordings and publishing to Sony. Bob Dylan got a similar amount for selling his recorded catalogue to Sony and his publishing to Universal.
Abba have been in on the act, too. But not selling: a company founded by Bjorn Ulvaeus of Abba has been buying up other artists’ catalogues. Abba themselves have no need to sell: they were so far ahead of the curve in exploiting their past that they could probably afford to buy Sweden, as well as most of Denmark and Norway.
In addition to all those records they sold while they were still together, their 1992 compilation Abba Gold has sold an estimated 30 million copies worldwide (last year it chalked up its 1,000th week on the UK chart). Then, in 1999, came the Mamma Mia! stage musical, the third-highest grossing musical ever – $4 billion at the box office. The subsequent film grossed $611 million, and its sequel a further $411 million. Unless something has gone catastrophically wrong, none of Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad (that’s Princess Anni-Frid Reuss, Dowager Countess of Plauen, to you, mate) need worry about whether they can afford the Taste the Difference range at the supermarket.
What’s incredible about this is that all those billions have been reaped from what is, I suspect, the weakest catalogue of any major act (there’s a reason More Abba Gold sold only a tenth of its predecessor).