Mercuriadis’s pitch, and the big bucks Hipgnosis has paid, have gotten the industry’s attention. And in headline numbers, at least, Hipgnosis is off to a successful start. Its latest financial results, published this month, reported that the “fair value” of its catalog, as determined by an independent reviewer, rose 10 percent from April to September.
Hipgnosis’s growing collection means that its songs are everywhere. It recently acquired a slice of “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” Mariah Carey’s inescapable holiday standard, and the new season of Netflix’s hit show “The Crown” uses four songs from the Hipgnosis portfolio.
But Mercuriadis has drawn a backlash from the establishment he has provoked. They question whether Hipgnosis can ever earn back the sums it is paying, and whether “song management” is any different from what other music publishers do every day.
“One thing that Merck is doing really well is persuading people with deep pockets that music publishing is a simple business which others are doing badly,” said Jane Dyball, the former chief executive of the Music Publishers Association, a trade group in Britain. “In reality it’s not a simple business.”
Even his critics, however, acknowledge that Mercuriadis has raised the temperature of the business, and that by paying top dollar to buy out songwriters’ work, Hipgnosis may be driving a fundamental change in the industry. (In the sharp-elbowed publishing world, though, the other guy’s deals are never as golden as one’s own.)
“He’s stirred the bottom of the barrel,” said Larry Mestel, the founder of Primary Wave Music, whose portfolio includes Nicks, Bob Marley, Burt Bacharach and Smokey Robinson. “Merck has been getting a lot of splash because he’s closing a lot of high-multiple deals, but he’s not closing the quality we’re closing.”