How Many Albums Does Coldplay Need to Sell to Keep EMI in Business?

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At last, it's the big day! Coldplay's new album, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends is finally purchasable in stores, where it's all but certain to save the band's label, EMI, from imminent doom! Maybe!

How are things over at EMI these days? About as terrible as you might expect, according to yesterday's massive story in the New York Times. As you'll probably recall, Terra Firma, the British private-equity firm led by Guy Hands, bought the struggling music conglomerate for $6.4 billion last year and, while kicking the tires on his new acquisition, Hands was shocked to learn that EMI employees were using creative accounting techniques to hide losses of $1.5 billion and, hilariously, expense drugs and prostitutes to the company. Since then, he's taken a lot of flack for his bold, innovative plan to create a streamlined, more-efficient EMI whose reduced workforce isn't constantly getting high on drugs and being serviced by prostitutes — but if Coldplay's album sells well (and it's already moved 300,000 copies in Britain), all will be forgiven and the company will be returned to its former glory, right?

Well, it's important to remember that EMI is really two parts: EMI's music-publishing unit (for which Terra Firma paid 80 percent of its $6.4 billion) "owns copyrights and provides a steady flow of cash"; then there's the company's recorded-music division, the half that lost the $1.5 billion, which sounds like a goner no matter how many people buy Viva La Vida (Hands says he'll sell it off if "if market conditions do not improve," and, let's be honest, market conditions will probably not improve). Eventually, the company will either sell that unit to Warner or Sony, or keep it and quit releasing albums by new artists, eliminating the need for costly marketing and promotion. Great sales for the Coldplay album "could polish EMI's image," says the Times, but we doubt it'll forestall any obvious eventualities.

So, EMI's publishing division, no matter what, will probably survive and thrive forever — but since no one actually understands what music publishing is, or how it makes money, this probably won't matter anyone (except the people somehow getting rich, we suppose). How many albums would Coldplay have to sell to save recorded music, the side of the business we're all familiar with from movies and television? Approximately 900 billion. And, if they sold that many, Guy Hands would probably let his employees have their prostitutes back too.

EMI's New Boss Sees Cracks in Music World [NYT]