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Promotions spark sales of top albums

HMV Group

ALTHOUGH Canto-pop still rules the roost in the domestic music market, local fans are increasingly turning to international stars.

The 'Four Heavenly Kings' of Canto-pop - Andy Lau, Jackie Cheung, Aaron Kwok and Leon Lai - do not have to worry about being knocked off their thrones by musical invaders from the West, but sales of international acts have made a modest comeback after a decade of Canto-pop rule.

Albums like Bon Jovi's Crossroads and Madonna's Bedtime Stories have sold about 60,000 copies in Hong Kong.

Ray Fong, Warner Music's marketing manager of international music, attributed the sales success largely to retailers such as HMV.

'The HMV superstore and the entire chain is a great help to the local music market,' Mr Fong said.

'It gives the consumer a lot more choice and, in this respect, with HMV, our entire catalogue can be displayed.' He said the percentage of sales between Canto-pop and international acts was 'heavily weighted on the domestic side'.

Asian artists still accounted for nearly three-quarters of Warner Music's album sales in Hong Kong, Mr Fong said.

Listening stations and video display monitors at HMV stores helped buyers to keep track of trends.

'Take a band like REM, it sold nearly 20,000 copies of Monster [in Hong Kong] with little air play. Green Day sold nearly 10,000 copies of its record [ Dookie ] - that's excellent sales for those bands in this market,' Mr Fong said. 'These [listening posts] are helpful. Buying a record is a $100 gamble for a consumer.

'Previously, he paid $100 by looking at the album cover; now he has a chance to experience whether the music appeals to him first.' At the same time, those who could only rely on radio to find out about current albums, could play these at a listening post and also sample tracks that had not been played on the airwaves.

Mr Fong said in-store videos were most effective in encouraging sales of lesser-known artists.

'We have this Spanish/Latin American singer named Luis Miguel and he sells quite well. He looks good and he has style and he is basically music for lovers. So, if you put his face on television, it does help,' Mr Fong said.

'But if you just play his songs on radio - then everyone will compare him to a younger Julio Iglesias and, of course, the consumer will rather buy Julio.

'If we did not have video, no one would bother listening to him.' With potential blockbuster albums in the Batman soundtrack (featuring U2), Rod Stewart and All-4-One set to be released, Mr Fong said HMV would play a prominent part in the launch of these albums.

'The great thing about HMV is that it gives prominent exposure or displays for these kind of releases and it makes it the big event that it deserves to be,' Mr Fong said.

On the other hand, a big album being promoted in a small record shop would not have the same impact on sales.