Digital Music

Where are Latino sales?

By Leila Cobo


For the past several years, digital music sales have been touted as the saving grace of a music industry whose sales have
steadily plummeted.

But in the Latin music realm, the promise just hasn’t materialized. According to numbers published in Billboard Magazine, 2010 year-end U.S. sales of Latin albums (with Latin defined as music that’s at least 51 percent in Spanish) slipped for the fourth consecutive year to a dismal 12.3 million copies, a  26.8 percent drop from the 16.8 million albums sold in 2009.

Meantime, sales of Latin digital albums also rose by 28 percent, from 716,000 to 917,000 copies. But that’s not nearly enough to begin to compensate for the loss of physical sales. The downturn in the Latin market, which now stands at less than a third of its height in 2006, when it sold 37.7 million copies, has made the industry increasingly look toward the digital world and ask: Why isn’t Latin music moving more online?

On the one hand are the oft-given arguments of high pricing, lack of Internet savvy and the assumption that Latins download illegally more  than the mainstream.

In addition, points out Diego Prusky, president of digital marketing company InStyle Media, regional Mexican music, the top selling Latin music genre in the country, rarely sells robustly online. Among many other reasons, buying online requires a credit card and credit, something many new immigrants don’t have.

And yet, according to a recent Pew Hispanic Center study on Internet use, 64 percent of Latinos ages 18 and older go online, compared with 78 percent of non-Latinos. That’s certainly enough to sustain digital commerce. However, says Guillermo Page, an executive for label Sony Music Latin, “that 68 percent may be online but they’re not consuming music that way.”

The big mover of online music sales in this country is iTunes, easy to access, easy to use.

But how many Latins are aware of iTunes, really?

“You and I use iTunes,” says one label executive. “I would like my nanny—who buys music, who goes to concerts—to learn how to use iTunes. She doesn’t have a clue.”

And even if she did have a clue, it doesn’t necessarily lead to the iTunes Latino music store or channel, where Latin music is housed. To find that, you have to specifically know where to look (click on the “Music” tab on the home page, scroll down and click on “Latino”), because Latin music is rarely promoted on the iTunes homepage.

Still, the solution isn’t as simple as having iTunes invest in Latin marketing—although that would certainly help. 

“It’s about creating a digital culture,” says Prusky. “It’s not just about the music, but about creating a brand, an experience, or whatever you want to call it.”

Having a major radio hit, then, or a major star, doesn’t necessarily translate to online sales. For now, at least, there needs to be an extra oomph—if you will—that propels that Latin buyer to go find the music.

The top selling Latin digital track of 2010, for example, was Shakira’s Waka Waka (This Time for Africa), which benefitted from the World Cup global exposure. At No. 2 was another Shakira track, Loca, featuring El Cata. No. 3 was Mi Niña Bonita by Venezuelan duo Chino y Nacho. The song was a big radio hit, but most importantly in this case, it was supported by a major AT&T television and online campaign. 

The most telling example is Danza Kuduro by Don Omar. The song was a big radio hit in 2010, but now it’s become the top-selling Latin digital track of 2011. What made its online sales rise? 

The relentless online presence and promotion from Don Omar himself, who uses his considerable talents as an orator to virally spread the word on his music any chance he gets.

“Through some of these cyber networks we are able to reach many fans,” says Don Omar, who has 6.5 million facebook likes. “Artists can do good work, but if they don’t have contact with their fan base, they may not know what their fans want. It’s important to keep it real.” z


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