Selling regional Mexican music digitally has been a catch-22 of sorts: customers are less likely to download music online, and carriers and online retailers are often unwilling to take a risk on a market whose digital sales have lagged.

But panelists at the Billboard Regional Mexican Summit in Los Angeles emphasized that heavy mobile use, a deep level of cultural engagement and heavy touring schedules that acts in the genre have can all be channeled into digital sales.

On duranguense artist Diana Reyes' online store, "it's in the process of the purchase where the purchase doesn't happen," said DBC Entertainment VP/GM Gabriel Fregoso, citing lack of understanding of PayPal, an unwillingness by undocumented fans to enter their personal information online and low credit card use. The overwhelming proportion of buyers of Reyes' merchandise online do so with money orders and personal checks, said Fregoso.

Those problems have stymied purchases of regional Mexican music online, but the genre has also shown great promise once mobile carriers and online retailers can be convinced to give the artists front-page or prime deck placement, panelists said.

When Vicente Fernandez' "Para Siempre" was promoted on iTunes' main page, "the results were immediate," said Lorenzo Braun, Sony Latin's digital business VP. "But on the other side we have to make sure that record companies, particularly independent ones, have the music available digitally." If digital is treated as an afterthought, "we lose all the initial marketing impulse behind that release...You have to convince the (online) retailer to put the product out front."

Skander Goucha, Universal Music Latin Entertainment's digital VP, estimated that regional Mexican digital sales comprise only 5% of digital revenue at his label group. He expected that figure to rise to 10 to 15% next year.

Goucha said that currently, two out of three top ringtone sellers for UMLE were Alacranes Musical, pop artist Luis Fonsi and veteran grupero act Los Temerarios. But panelists agreed that radio play and strong touring were essential, in addition to prime placement, to moving digital sales. "If no one has heard about the song...you're not going to get big numbers," noted Goucha.

Educating aggregators, carriers and artists on the investments they need to make in promoting regional Mexican content was seen as key to breaking the chicken-and-egg problem of low promotion and low sales.

The Orchard's mobile marketing manager Nathan Thompson sent a text message blast promoting a free ringtone from a Balboa Records artist. "That one little risk that we took with a free piece of content much made up for it," said Thompson.

The Billboard Regional Mexican Music Summit runs Oct. 6 - 8 at the Wilshire Grand Hotel.