In Nick Hornby’s late 1990s novel About a Boy, one of the characters lives comfortably from the royalties of a Christmas hit written by his late dad. These days, the easygoing Will Freeman might be tempted to auction off the rights and cash in while he can. The music-streaming revolution has turned old songs into one of the world’s most precious commodities. Back catalogues are being mined on an industrial scale.
When Bob Dylan sold all his work to Universal Music for an estimated $300m (£225m) earlier this month, the company described it as “the most significant music publishing agreement this century”.
Investors such as Hipgnosis Songs Fund are meanwhile hunting through the pop charts of the 1970s and 80s, looking for low-hanging fruit that can be dusted off and streamed to a new generation. Songs from Blondie, Chrissie Hynde and, yes, Barry Manilow, have helped turn Hipgnosis into one of the top performers in the FTSE 250. Merck Mercuriadis, its founder, has said that proven songs are a better bet than oil or gold.