SEATTLE ( TheStreet) -- Record-store owners owe Apple ( AAPL) 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.
Record stores, meanwhile, saw their revenue tumble by 76% since 2000 to $2 billion, according to market research firm IBISWorld. That group estimates that record stores will lose another 40% of sales by 2016. While it would have been just fine to blame iTunes, Amazon ( AMZN) and other online options for that dropoff in the early part of the 2000s, it's not nearly as strong an argument now. Though Target ( TGT), Wal-Mart ( WMT) and Best Buy ( BBY) are just some of the retailers that have reduced floor space for CDs and DVDs in favor of online offerings, Nielsen found that digital music's growth slowed from 27% in 2008 to 8% in 2009 and just 1% last year. You'll forgive the more than 700 independent record stores in the U.S. for not typing out their obituaries as quickly as some would like and, instead, celebrating the fourth installment of Record Store Day, to be held this Saturday, April 16. Dreamed up by Chris Brown, vice president of Maine- and New Hampshire-based music, movie, video-game and book chain Bull Moose, the event's grown from little more than 300 stores in 2008 to nearly 1,600 in 21 countries this year. "This whole thing kind of led to Record Store Day because I noticed that there were lots of stores like Bull Moose in other areas like Phoenix, Colorado Springs and Sacramento that were going through the same thing we were," Brown says. "They were thriving yet there was a sense that we were all dying and going to go away soon, and we were bummed that there was so much negativity in both the press and the industry."