Sales of Latin music plummeted 21.2% in 2012 compared with 2011, going from 11.8 million units to 9.8 million. Sales of Latin digital tracks grew, but not by much-they went from 10.6 million downloads in 2011 to 12 million in 2012, a paltry 2.1% rise compared with the 9% increase registered overall.
These numbers, of course, don't take into account other Latin music revenue streams that have shown significant gains, including streaming services.
But CD sales are still a centerpiece of a healthy music business, and their steady and relentless decline is a major cause for concern. Latin suffers from issues that are particular to the genre: The disappearance of retailers like Ritmo Latino, the largest Latin music retail chain, which shuttered in 2010; the disappearance of mom-and-pop music stores, which lost their place to mass merchants; and the dwindling space allotted to Latin music at those mass-merchant retailers.
What can be done to rev up retail? After extensive conversations with many executives, here are a few suggestions.
1. Develop new artists. "It's simple," says Jeff Young, president of Venetian Marketing Group, which has helped with the sales and development of acts like Prince Royce, Sie7e and Jen Carlos Canela. "Why would retail space remain the same if there's nothing to put into it?" Yes, it costs money to develop acts, and money is scarce because sales are down. But if no one takes the plunge, the situation simply will not improve. Boldness is required. Invest, generate interest and give retailers a good story.
2. Create new promotional platforms. Latin radio has become increasingly monolithic (i.e., only uptempo dance fare gets airplay) and hard to break into. Major Spanish-language TV networks recycle from a reduced stable of artists and aren't generating sales. Develop new shows, like "La Voz," that can truly develop and promote acts beyond an appearance.
3. Expand into nontraditional retail. Particularly with niche genres like Latin, there exists an opportunity beyond mass merchants and dwindling music retailers. Latin titles aren't sold at lifestyle stores. Why not? Also, look to Marco Antonio Solis' successful pairing of albums with concert tickets in Argentina, and Alejandro Sanz's similar tactic in Mexico.
4. Lower the price. "We need to have physical CDs and we need to keep having good releases at reasonable prices," says Johnny Phillips, president of indie distributor Select-O-Hits. That means less than $10, and far less for catalog titles.
5. Target iTunes. Easier said than done, but surely a coalition of labels can convince iTunes to regularly promote Latin releases on its home page.