PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- If it's supposedly a bygone relic from old Pearl Jam songs, wistful Gaslight Anthem film projects and obscure Jack White tech side projects, why is vinyl the fastest-growing music format in the country.Don't get us wrong, vinyl is still a thin sliver of the much larger recording industry. Of the 316 million albums sold last year, a scant 4.6 million were on vinyl. Yet Nielsen Soundscan ( NLSN) and Billboard note that while total album sales dropped 4.4% last year and physical album sales plummeted 12.8%, vinyl sales grew 17.7%.
It's no fluke, either. Since 2009, sales of vinyl records have grown by nearly 2.1 million albums and by nearly 15% each year. During that same time, total album sales have dropped from 376 million, while combined physical album sales have fallen below 200 million for the first time ever. That's not enough to undo all the damage vinyl and its purveyors have suffered throughout the years. Record stores 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. Vinyl's still a large, cumbersome, decidedly nonportable music format in a digital world with little use for those traits. Those recent sales spikes elevated vinyl from a thrift-store find to an honored portion of music collections throughout the U.S., though. You may buy a $1.99 digital single of the moment or download the full $8 to $10 album if you're really into it, but record buyers save that honor for the albums they truly praise or the ephemera they just can't find online. That's prompted labels such as Warner ( TWX) and Sony Music ( SNE) to crank up the vinyl works again and, on occasion, thrown in MP3 versions for free if people spend on shiny new 180-gram vinyl. Warner has gone so far as to pay for its spot as lead sponsor for the sixth-annual Record Store Day this Saturday at 700 participating independent record stores across the country and more than 1,600 shops around the world.
So where should you be if you want to get your hands on a Mark Lanegan/Moby single, a Black Keys/The Stooges 7" version of No Fun or any of the other special-edition releases headed to record stores that day? If your town is trapped in a sea of discs and downloads, let us recommend five places across the country where record stores not only live, but thrive: