SEATTLE (TheStreet) -- Record-store owners owe Apple (AAPL - Get Report) iTunes a tremendous debt of gratitude for being an uncaring, scatter-brained, inhuman little jukebox: It's saving their skin right now.The running narrative in the music world during the past decade is that the physical album is dead, and file-sharing, downloads and, most notably, Apple's iTunes killed it. Yes and no. There's no questioning that music sales on the whole are cratering faster than the resale value of an American Idol runner-up's follow-up album or the latest Glee soundtrack installment. Overall music sales plummeted from $14.6 billion in 1999 to $6.3 billion a decade later, with Nielsen saying album sales in 2010 fell 13% from the year before.
The music industry, for its part, has declared those indie stores alive and kicking and backs up that claim with inventory -- and lots of it. Labels shipped out roughly 45 original releases for the first Record Store Day, but have kicked that number up to more than 270 this year, according to Mike Batt, owner of Seattle-based music chain Silver Platters. While the ranks may have thinned during the rise of digital music, Batt says music stores that survived as his have did so by being what their predecessors and stereotypes weren't. "The stores that were really big and hip back in the 1990s and 2000s and the people who grew up with them and were trying to be hip to the kids have lost their customer base and seen it dwindle," Batt says. "Ours has dwindled, there's no denying that, but I'm starting to hear more and more from people that they're finding us and they're bringing older people to our classical section and young people to your vinyl section." Some of the credit for that resilience belongs to online music services, but most notably iTunes -- whose $1.2 billion in sales last quarter is more than half of what the record stores will make all year and still growing by 23% over the same period last year. That success, however, saved existing independent record shops in some very unlikely ways. The following five iTunes-induced record-store changes are worth a spin: