Almost every major musical act has merchandise emblazoned with his or her name, and Latin performers are no exception. Fans of Jennifer Lopez, Prince Royce and Marco Antonio Solís often want to leave with at least a T-shirt in hand after attending a concert by their favorite star.
While Latin merch has sometimes struggled to achieve large sales figures, the business is becoming increasingly important as the genre's audience grows to an ever-widening global market.
About a year ago, Los Angeles-based publisher Hugo Gonzalez launched HipMerch, and today the company works exclusively with strong-selling acts from Belanova to Enrique Bunbury. "Not very many people [appropriately] target the Latin merch market," says Gonzalez, who recently oversaw sales at a Gloria Trevi show at Los Angeles' Nokia Theatre. "I work shows in the U.S. and Mexico, and I've come to realize that CDs and T-shirts sell extremely well."
Gonzalez's price points are usually less than those of arena-level Anglo rock bands-between $10 and $30 for a T-shirt and around $10 for a CD. Some acts, including Belanova, offer "bundles" to fans that include products and a photo with the act at the venue. But for every successful tour, there are times that Gonzalez has barely broken even.
Tomas Cookman, president/owner of Cookman Management and Nacional Records, who has seen Latin merch evolve through the years, maintains that prices need to stay low. He says that a Latin act charging high prices is not only being unreasonable, but also making potentially hazardous career moves for the long term. (Nacional charges $15 for T-shirts.)
"If you're a Jaguares or a Molotov," he says, citing the two Mexican rock bands as examples, "you want fans coming back, so don't charge $45 for a T-shirt."
Avi Ellman, managing director of Tribecka Licensing Group, says that for every Latin band of the moment that explodes onto the scene for a short time there are others that need to develop their merchandise and approach to the market.
"Most artists will develop organically from smaller to somewhat larger groups of highly intense fans who crave an experience of connection," Ellman says. "The broad stroke style of merchandising will not work. Identifying and understanding how to monetize these niche markets is the key to success."
Ellman says that, except for some early bumps, his business has generally increased 100% year over year. He attributes the growth not to additional U.S. touring, but to new business with artists already on the road.
"In Latin entertainment, merchandising historically was the domain of the pirate," Ellman says. "Artists had good reason to assume this, too. With few exceptions, standard merchandise programs did not produce exciting results in the Latin space."
Ellman adds that he's expanded into sports and other entertainment. "All these factors, as well as the fact that we've increased the depth of our work with Latin artists in the U.S., helped us grow."