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Music Catalogers Lovin' 'La Vida Loca'

Recording industry direct marketers are singing praises about the quantum leap of media attention being placed on singer Ricky Martin — and not because he represents the arrival of an important cultural Zeitgeist, but because he confirms something they've long anticipated: a major crossover phenomenon for direct-to-consumer music club sales in the already hot $570.8 million Latin audio and video niche.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, Washington, DC, manufacturers saw a 12-percent increase in Latin audio and video products shipped to domestic market consumers last year, with dollar values rising 16 percent to $570.8 million from $490.6 the previous year. Even CD shipments to Latin consumers alone saw a 22 percent increase. Combine those numbers with the media's obsession with Martin and you get a chorus of recording industry merchandisers, catalogers and music club marketers harmonizing around, “I told you so.”

“I've been working on this business for six years” said Abbe Alpaugh, director of the Latin club at BMG Direct, New York. “And every year people were saying, 'This is the year it's all going to happen.' Well, we're finally seeing that come to pass. And we're ready — we're in the mail with a promotion as we speak.”

At BMG Direct's primary competitor, Columbia House, Terre Haute, IN, a similar refrain is being echoed, but one that's staying tuned for signs of an overall, long-term Latin music sales expansion.

“Ricky Martin's last album, 'Vuelve,' we were promoting that a year ago,” said Robert Movradinov, manager of Latin market promotion at Columbia House.

Smaller direct marketers of Latin niche CD recordings and tapes on the Internet make similar comments — that Martin mania is not new to everyone but still suggests that a sustainable increase in the direct marketing of recorded music within all Latin music subcategories is in the making. And it appears the membership clubs especially couldn't be more hopeful because they know consumers are young, which means they also are more likely to be making future music purchases online or through strongly branded buying clubs.

The overall U.S. music market is currently estimated by the recording association to be $13.7 billion with the Latin niche accounting for 4.1 percent. But some said that number is deceiving because there is still debate about what constitutes real crossover.

“A lot of people saw Selena and the media [around her death] as part of the start of this,” Alpaugh said. “And if you remember, People magazine had to go back to press with their Selena edition cover.” BMG started with a Latin “listening preference” product within its larger pop club a year ago. “It absolutely did very well from the beginning,” she said. “We're currently in the process of starting a second club, a bilingual one.”

How much the big music catalogers and online membership clubs can bank on continued growth is unclear. And no one would give exact figures for how well they are doing within the overall Latin genre. But at Columbia House, Movradinov said marketing directly to the various niches within the overall category is yielding results.

“We have to cater to our consumers in a certain fashion. It's not just about crossover or Ricky Martin, it's about salsa, its about knowing how Caribbean dance music sells in New York but is influenced by Cuban culture,” he said. “You have to focus on the real details, otherwise customers will know you don't know the difference.”

Movradinov, of course, is making a common sense direct marketing point — that the nuances will especially matter in the long run for all the music merchandisers who are racing to target young buyers of Latin-oriented music. But for now, they're all loving what's happening. Indeed, Jennifer Lopez' “If You Had My Love” and Martin's “Livin' La Vida Loca” were No. 1 and No. 2 on last week's Billboard Hot 100 chart and Martin was No. 5 on the dance chart, in the top 10 on the Latin charts and, perhaps most telling of all, the most purchased male recording artist on the Internet.

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