There's a lovely piece by The Wall Street Journal's Numbers Guy, Carl Bialik, which explores the claims for Michael Jackson's albums:
For many years, Mr. Jackson's lifetime sales tally typically was reported at 200 million albums world-wide. But in late 2006, news articles began putting the number at 750 million, a figure that became part of the popular lore as Mr. Jackson was attempting a comeback. In the last few weeks, it has popped up in obituaries and retrospectives.
The truth is, Jacko's album sales are still pretty impressive, but nowhere near that figure:
Lau Ho Hoi, who works for a construction firm in Hong Kong and posts on a popular U.K. online music forum, gained attention on the music blog Hitsville last week for his posts from 2004 compiling Mr. Jackson's sales by country. In an updated analysis, he calculated that the pop star sold 131.5 million albums world-wide, and 65.6 million singles. The total doesn't include digital downloads, which have taken off for Mr. Jackson since his death.
Guillaume Vieira, an engineer in Paris, has compiled his own totals for his Web site, Fan of Music. By his count, Michael Jackson had sold 205.5 million albums before his death, plus many millions more in singles and downloads.
So: Jackson didn't sell 750 million albums. His memorial wasn't watched by a billion people. And his title King Of Pop was not ratified by every member of the United Nations.
It's not going to stop people printing the legend, though, is it?