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Where the Hit Parade Never Stops

June 03, 2002|Times staff writers

The latest in the ever-expanding series of cross-label hits compilation albums, "Totally Hits 2002," arrives in stores on Tuesday, and with it a question: Is there a bottom to the compilation pit?

The fifth volume of the "Totally Hits" series has 20 tracks, from Pink's "Get the Party Started" and Tweet's "Oops (Oh My)" to Alanis Morissette's "Hands Clean" and LeAnn Rimes' "Can't Fight the Moonlight."

Meanwhile, the similarly designed "Now That's What I Call Music! 9" remains in the national Top 10 after 21/2 months, and the eighth "Now" is still one of the nation's top 200 sellers after more than six months.

How well can such collections continue to sell?

"The concept of 'well' gets redefined the further we go into this," says Musicland retail chain buyer Scott Levin. "The 'Now' series has done very well in Europe for years, and it has become successful here, too. This ['Totally Hits'] compilation is trying to get at that same demographic. Over time, there could be a bottom. But if the songs on each one are right, it almost doesn't matter what you call it."

Says Tower Records southwest territory director Bob Feterl: "The 'Now' and 'Totally Hits' series have become pretty strong brands. I see them as the McDonald's and Burger King of the genre, and they're going to keep selling."

Compilations, retailers say, give record companies something of a bargain to offer young music fans increasingly used to downloading songs for free off the Internet. That's partly the fault of record companies that have all but stopped releasing individual songs for purchase as singles. Hits compilation albums, retailers say, only partly remedy the situation.

"We still have kids walking into a store with $5 or $6 in their pockets," Levin says, "but we're still not able to give them something they can afford to buy."

Adds Feterl: "When I was a kid, singles started you on the habit. It's like McDonald's markets to kids.... We marketed to kids with singles, and they kept coming in and coming in and bought other things as they got older. That's the problem now.

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