What the best-selling album of all time says about baby boomers’ spending power

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Michael Jackson fans worldwide are celebrating what would have been his 60th birthday this week, a testament to his enduring reign as the king of pop.

But that title took a hit this month.

Classic rockers The Eagles dethroned Jackson’s 1982 masterwork “Thriller” as the top-selling album of all time when the band’s “Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975” surpassed 38 million copies sold.

Regardless of what it says about their relative musical talents, the milestone is evidence of the awesome spending power of the generation that’s just a few years older than Jackson’s Generation X fan base: baby boomers.

‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave’

Representatives for the band and its music label didn’t have an exact demographic profile of Eagles fans available, but the band formed in 1971, and it’s safe to assume that the bulk of the band’s fans are baby boomers, the group born between 1946 to 1964 and now in their mid-50s to early 70s.

Research has shown that musical taste freezes in your early 30s. That’s how old millions of boomers were when the Eagles were churning out chart-toppers like “Hotel California,” which included the immortal lines “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

Most people (69%) who like similar artists of that era — including Eric Clapton, The Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, and Paul McCartney — are 45 and older, said Russ Crupnick, managing partner of the research firm MusicWatch. And those fans have had ample opportunity to buy the record-setting Eagles’ greatest hits album again and again.

As one fan noted on The Eagles official Facebook page, “I had this twice on vinyl, once on cassette, and three times on CD. I’m pretty sure I’m due for another copy. I play them so much they wear out.”

‘I had this twice on vinyl, once on cassette, and three times on CD. I’m pretty sure I’m due for another copy. I play them so much they wear out.’

– Eagles fan on the album Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)

In fact, today’s music listeners get most excited about rediscovering songs and bands they already know, like the song that played at their prom, or a band they liked in college. “Every time we ask people about music discovery, more people are interested in rediscovering older music than in discovering new music,” Crupnick said.

‘Life in the Fast Lane’

The Eagles sang about “Life in the Fast Lane” and the boomers are living it now. Their boomer fans have come a long way from their days spent wearing tattered jeans and shaggy hair and rejecting conformity. They’ve more than embraced the mainstream. They now control 70% of all disposable income in the U.S., and boomers 50 and older account for more than half of U.S. consumer spending, according to a 2016 report by Visa.

They also stand to inherit some $15 trillion in wealth over the next 15 years. And far from “dropping out” as they did in the late ’60s, they’re staying in the workforce far longer than previous generations did.

Millennials now outnumber boomers, and marketers are obsessed with capturing their screen-challenged attention spans. But brands would be wise to shift their efforts to well-resourced boomers, said Peter Hubbell, founder and CEO of Boomagers, an ad agency and consulting firm focused on boomers.

“The millennials may represent the future of marketing, but the future isn’t here yet,” Hubbell said. Millennials are still five to 15 years away or so away from their peak earning years. Hubbell has seen some long-established companies panic when they realize their core customers are now in their 70s and awkwardly try to pivot to selling to millennials. “That’s a wrong move,” Hubbell said. “They should be going after the people who actually have money.”

Melissa Prepster, a 49-year-old from Austin, Texas, and co-founder of a Facebook page for Eagles fans, says she thinks Eagles music still sells because fans associate the songs with important moments in their lives. “It’s their personal soundtrack,” Prepster said. “People did things to the music of the Eagles. They partied, they got engaged, they went on road trips.”

She says she tries not to think about how much money she’s spent on The Eagles over the years. She’s seen them in concert 109 times since 1994.

Why boomers want to ‘take it to the limit’

Why does The Eagles music still sell so well? And why are fans willing to pay $148 and up for their October show at New York City’s Madison Square Garden?

It’s partly related to boomers’ attitude toward aging. The older boomers get, the younger they claim to feel. Among boomers aged 65 to 74, 33% feel 10 to 19 years younger than their age. And when they predict how healthy they’ll be in their golden years, they don’t envision a decline, Hubbell said.

That’s why the Eagles’ greatest hits still finds buyers. “It’s timeless music for ageless people,” Hubbell said. “It’s really about: if my music is timeless, then I must be timeless too. Boomers don’t want to be young again, they just want to be ageless.”

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