Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Not All Record Stores Hurting..

Sure, record sales are declining across the board for all physical record stores, but there are some that aren't declining as fast as others.

Those would be Latin record stores.

Jose Jimenez from Mexico is one who frequents them. "You listen to the music and start to believe you're back in your country," he said, adding that the lyrics speak about what is going on in Mexico these days and he can relate as well as keep in touch with his home country.

For many Latin Americans like Jimenez, the source for their music -- a cultural bridge between their lives in the U.S. and their homelands -- is the neighborhood Latin record shop. These stores have proliferated in New York's immigrant neighborhoods in recent years and have survived even as the retail music industry that caters to English speakers faces grim prospects.

Digital downloads, piracy, big-box stores and a lack of support for emerging artists on radio are transforming how music is bought and sold, industry experts say. But so far, Latin record shops seem to be holding their own against many of the negative trends -- at least for now. Only time will tell exactly what will happen, and the predictions are not currently in favor of any record store, including Latin ones.

"Latin Americans still have not gotten into the habit of downloading music," said Enrique Reyes, founder of one of the largest Latin music distributors in the country, Miami-based Reyes Musica. The industry isn't complaining about that!

A lack of high-speed Internet connections, unique collections of music and movies unavailable online and a preference for hard copies have kept many Latinos going back to their neighborhood record shops, according to distributors and music retail experts.

Many of the independent Latin record shops also cater to specific nationalities. In the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, for instance, it's easy to find retailers focusing on Ecuadorian music. Jackson Heights is where many get the latest in "grupera" music from Mexico.

Clark Bensen, the founder and CEO of the Almighty Institute of Music Retail -- which tracks retail sales for independent shops -- said that while his organization didn't specifically focus on Latin music sales, it does appear that consumers of the genre are more CD-friendly. "Latin consumers haven't shifted their listening behaviors as quickly as consumers of other music genres have," Bensen said. Of the 32.6 million albums digitally downloaded in 2006, only 293,000 of those were in the Latin American genre, according to recent numbers from Nielsen SoundScan. Alternative music, in contrast, accounted for 9.6 million of those digital downloads.

Some distributors and experts, though, think the future of independent Latin record shops is bleak. "In general, the sales in what you are calling mom-and-pop are going down," said Leila Cobo, the editor in chief of Billboard Latino. But she said there may be pockets of health among smaller record shops in different cities.

"Not everybody has a credit card, and not everybody has access to high-speed Internet," she said, adding that the future of music sales belongs to digital downloads. "It's a very small percentage of Latin sales," she said. "But I see this as the big growing area." Still, she said if people are looking for a song popular back home, their best bet would be to go to a neighborhood record shop.

Obviously this is a unique advantage of the Latin record industry, but it will be interesting to see just how long they can keep in business.

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