Prince is gone, but his business empire lives on

The Under the Cherry Moon room.
A purple motorcycle and Prince's outfits from "Under the Cherry Moon" are displayed in a room named after the movie inside of Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minn. on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

One year after his death, Prince is still generating big bucks.

Professionals overseeing his estate have already cut deals for Prince's music, image and brand. Meanwhile, many online vendors are looking to profit from Prince's legacy, selling everything from third-eye sunglasses and coloring books to iPhone cases and guitars.

At the heart of the Prince estate's money-making machine is Paisley Park in Chanhassen. The place where Prince lived and made music is now a museum that pays tribute to his legacy.

Fans plunk down about $40 for a basic tour. For $100, the deluxe tour includes perks like an opportunity for a photo alongside one of Prince's purple pianos.

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Cheryl Lopiccollo and her husband drove from St. Louis to visit the museum.

"I enjoyed it," she said of the deluxe tour. "I love Prince. And it was just neat to see his costumes and guitars."

The tour also includes the sound stage that can accommodate about 1,500 revelers, the studios where Prince recorded music and edited video, his purple Plymouth Prowler, his Grammys and other awards, clips form Purple Rain and other films, and a lot more. Prince's living quarters are not open to visitors, but an urn holding his ashes is enshrined in an atrium where tours begin.

Museum spokesperson Mitch Maguire said Paisley Park is drawing fans from around the country and world. For many, he said, it's a step in their grieving process for Prince.

Exterior of Paisley Park
Photo of the exterior of Paisley Park.
Photo courtesy of Paisley Park NPG Records File

"It allows a lot of people to kind of put things into perspective in terms of what Prince was able to accomplish over time, giving them a sense of what it was like for him to be here, work here, create and perform here," he said.

The museum wouldn't disclose how many people have visited since last October's opening. But Maguire said at least a few hundred come every day it's open.

According to a business plan filed last August, the museum said it expected to draw up to 2,000 guests on the busiest days.

If the museum were to draw 100,000 visitors a year, with a fifth paying for the VIP tour, that would bring in about $5 million annually. Then there's the on-site revenue to be had from selling Prince memorabilia.

Paisley Park is operated by the same company that runs Elvis Presley's Graceland. That museum and related entertainment, retail and resort operations draw over a half million visitors per year. Some of Prince's heirs have envisioned Paisley Park as another Graceland. But there are no grand plans for its development so far, according to filings with the city of Chanhassen.

And there's limited room for growth, unless adjacent property is purchased. The Paisley Park property covers only about 9 acres and has about 100 parking spaces. If a hotel were created in an existing building on site, it could have no more than 35 rooms.

The biggest source of money so far for Prince's estate has come from the licensing of his music.

"You're looking easily at over $100 million," said investment banker David Pullman, who has helped David Bowie and other prominent musicians capitalize on their work.

In effect, Prince's estate has got an advance on income it'll earn from renting out Prince's music. Meanwhile, the value of that music will likely grow, making any future licensing deals more lucrative.

Prince's image, brand and music also could be used in myriad ways to bring in a ton of cash, Pullman said. "Clothing lines, eyewear, sunglasses, beverages, commercials, holographic images for commercials."

And perhaps for Corvettes, too,

With Prince's passing, General Motors posted tweets and ran ads that honored Prince with a red Corvette tribute.

There's been a surge in Prince T-shirts, pins, posters and other memorabilia sold on the internet by small-time shops. Amazon and Etsy are loaded with the stuff.

Jim York of Chicago started selling an $11 Prince lapel pin through his online store, The Found, shortly after the musician's death.

"Just as a way to acknowledge the love of Price that's out there," he said. "It's not like we're doing whole business around Prince."

Minneapolis entertainment and intellectual property lawyer Blake Iverson said a lot of Princely merchandise probably violates trademark or copyright laws. But he said there may be some gray areas about what Prince products are legal or not, and he expects the estate would not bother to crack down on small fish.

"There's this bootleg material for every prominent artist in the world, and it really is rarely worth the time and effort to police it," Iverson said. "The best way to combat this is to just release your own superior quality material."

And, he notes, major mainstream merchants, like Target and Walmart, that can really drive sales will only want to sell legal merchandise.

If you're looking for something a little pricey to remember Prince, Dave Rusan has a deal for you. He made three horned guitars for Prince. Now he's creating some more to sell.

The price: $8,000, including a case, certificate of authenticity, custom-dyed strap and pick used by Prince.

"Although that sounds like a lot of money, it is a lot of work," he said. "So, it isn't a bonanza. And it has taken away from my repair work. It's also fun to do. It reminds me of a very exciting time in Minneapolis. It was a music capitol of the the world. He just changed it. Every day was exciting."

Rusan has applied for a copyright for the guitar.

"I think I'll be getting that," he said. "Prince never copyrighted it."

Of course, there's the traditional way musicians make money — selling the music to fans. Prince continues to spur sales at the musician's favorite record store, the Electric Fetus. Even about a year after Prince's death, his music is often among the store's top sellers.

Bob Fuchs, retail music manager at the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis, expects interest in Prince's music could remain strong for many years as previously unreleased recordings come to market.

"There's been all this talk about he has maybe a 100 records' worth of material recorded and ready to go in the vault," he said. "And that is the huge question amongst all Prince fans. They're saying he could put out three records a year for 30 years."

And Prince fans — old and new — would likely buy those recordings by the millions, adding to the fortune the musician's estate and heirs will earn.