Luxury-goods merchants Neiman Marcus and Coach are getting a sales boost from Apple Computer's iPod music player by offering designer covers...

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Luxury-goods merchants Neiman Marcus and Coach are getting a sales boost from Apple Computer’s iPod music player by offering designer covers costing as much as $840.

Neiman’s “Christmas Book” catalog features seven iPod cases made by designers such as Gucci and Emilio Pucci. Neiman’s Valentino Swarovski crystal-studded cover is more than double the $399 price tag for the most expensive version of the iPod.

Sales of digital-player accessories are surging this holiday season, after climbing fourfold to $412 million in the first nine months of the year, according to market-researcher NPD Group. The iPod accounted for 72 percent of all music players sold in the U.S. through October.

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“The portable digital-player accessory market is exploding and it’s not going to stop,” said Stephen Baker, a vice president at NPD Group. “Sales for the fourth quarter of 2005 are expected to exceed the total volume generated so far this year. With momentum like that, the industry is poised to approach $1 billion for 2005.”

Cases and bags were the second-biggest category after speaker systems, and accounted for 18 percent of the dollar volume, NPD said. Shoes, handbags and accessories represented 19 percent of total sales at Neiman in the year ended July 30, the company said.

Nordstrom has expanded its selection, adding iPod mini and shuffle cases, and will be offering nano covers in the spring, said spokeswoman Deniz Anders. Its biggest-selling brands for women are Liz Claiborne’s Juicy Couture, some models of which have sold out; Kate Spade; and its private-label cover, Anders said. It offers Tumi, Zegna and Burberry brand covers for men.

The top sellers industrywide are the Coach and Juicy Couture lines and covers embellished with studs and grommets, as well as metallic washes in bronze and gold, said Melissa Galit, an accessories expert at retail consultant Doneger Group.

While some iPod owners prefer $34.95 rubber cases, “Those looking for a more luxurious way to protect their iPods now have options as well,” Dana Telsey, an analyst with Bear Stearns in New York, wrote in a July report.

Prices for these fashion-technology covers mostly range from $68 to $230, she said. iPods themselves range from $99 to almost $400.

The iPod case is a purchase consumers make while shopping in the handbag department, said Deborah Rudinsky, a Doneger accessories expert.

It’s cheaper than a pocketbook, appeals to all age groups and isn’t seasonal, which minimizes markdowns, she said.

“It is definitely a nice business,” Rudinsky said.

Apple has sold more than 28.3 million iPods since it introduced them in October 2001.

New York-based Coach started selling iPod covers earlier this year, said spokeswoman Andrea Resnick. Its cases come in several leathers, some with appliqués such as ladybugs, and they range in price from $48 to $88.

Luxury-goods sellers aren’t limiting themselves to the iPod. Accessories makers “are starting to get into the BlackBerry” e-mail device, Doneger’s Galit said. “And there are a lot of those.”

Bloomberg reporter Joshua Fineman in New York contributed to this article.