While Prince diminutive Minneapolitan, self-imagined sex god, and perhaps the most influential musical artist of the '80s still sports sales figures most artists dream about, his numbers are on the decline. His 1984 triumph, Purple Rain, sold 10 million copies in the U.S. alone, but only two of his seven albums since then have sold even 2 million. Two of his last three, Lovesexy and Graffiti Bridge, have yet to reach the 1 million mark. For Prince, that's peanuts.
''He should be selling several million copies of each album,'' says Bob Merlis, a spokesman for Warner Bros. Records, which distributes Prince. ''Sometimes his musical universe and the public taste intersect, and he sells a lot of records. But he can't change what he's doing.''
Since 1987, only three Prince singles have reached the top 10. One of them, ''Batdance,'' from his 1989 music for the Batman soundtrack, went to No. 1, perhaps propelled by the success of the movie. But lately other artists have done better with Prince's material than he has. The most successful Prince song in recent years has been ''Nothing Compares 2 U,'' which became a massive worldwide hit sung by Sinéad O'Connor. This month, a song Prince produced for and cowrote with Martika ''Love...Thy Will Be Done'' is outcharting his own ''Gett Off.''