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Jackson, Beyond The Verdict

As the jury in his child molestation trial debates Michael Jackson's fate, many experts are debating impact the scandal will have on his already sagging career, even if he's acquitted.

Jackson's hugely successful "Thriller" album made him a megastar, reports Early Show National Correspondent Hattie Kauffman. But that was 20 years ago.

His album sales were declining even before his trial.

Brett Pulley, senior editor of Forbes magazine, describes Jackson as "cash-strapped," adding, "Nonetheless, he's asset-rich."

Those assets include his massive Neverland ranch, but even more valuable are the rights to some 200,000 songs, including the Beatles catalog.

"It's also an asset that generates substantial revenue on an annual basis, 50, 60, $70 million," Pulley points out.

However, Kauffman observes, things look bad for Jackson financiall,y due to his expensive trial and pricey settlements with past accusers, which have forced him take out big-money loans. He is roughly $350 million in debt.

Still, some in the music industry think his fortunes could turn around as fast as a spinning CD.

"The most simple thing that Michael Jackson or anyone could do who doesn't sell today the way they once sold, it's basic. You make a great record," remarks Geoff Mayfield, a senior analyst at Billboard magazine.

"One hit song cannot forgive a lot of sins," says Carl Stubner, CEO of Sanctuary Artist Management, North America. (But) one hit song can make people forget about a lot of sins. Which is a difference, I guess."

In the ten years since Jackson was first accused of child molestation, Kauffman notes, he still managed to sell 10 million CDs. But no one knows if fans will be as forgiving, now that they've actually seen him in court.

"I think it's going to ruin him," one man in a record store told Kauffman.

Another said, "Definitely, I will buy his records," even if Jackson is convicted.

Yet another: "I don't want to buy anymore…because it involves children."

A woman commented, "I don't think the outcome of a trial has any influence on whether I buy a record or not."

Jackson collects a royalty every time one of his songs is played on radio, on TV, or in movies.

But with a conviction, those royalties could be history.

"Some big consumer products company is not gonna be inclined to use a Michael Jackson song to advertise a product if Michael Jackson is in jail on child molestation charges," Forbes' Pulley says.

Jackson keeps spending as if he's making the money he made 20 years ago, Kauffman comments.

"There's this lack of awareness that money can run short," Pulley agrees.

The upkeep on Neverland alone runs millions per year, Kauffman says.

"The ranch is valued at $50 million or so," Pulley says, "but how liquid that may be, how easy it is to find a buyer for an amusement park that's out in the middle of nowhere? I don't know."

Other stars have come back from scandal, Kauffman continues, but none has come as close to destruction as Jackson.

"Where is he gonna be five, ten years from now, if he's not guilty?" Sanctuary's Stubner wonders. "He's gonna still be Michael Jackson, worldwide celebrity, recording artist, and hopefully touring. And hopefully seeing his fans. And surviving all this. If he's guilty, God only knows."

Last week, Kauffman adds, casino owner Steve Wynn denied rumors that he talked to Jackson about starring in a Las Vegas show. But industry experts say that denial may be temporary, if Jackson is acquitted.