Apple iTunes surpassed Wal-Mart as the largest music retailer in the country last year, but on May 1, the local shops will strike back.
“The indies are banding together,” says Jim Bland, owner of Plan 9 Music.
They're coming out with a way for local record stores to compete online while giving bands and labels a way to support the little guys. Plan 9 and a consortium of independent record stores are rolling out a new Web service, Think Indie, to compete with the iTunes and Napsters of the music business. So indie shop fans will be able to purchase digital downloads and buy albums from small record shops online, with a cut in profits going to actual record shops.
The site will offer some exclusive distribution deals for popular independent-minded acts. It will also offer a platform to distribute recordings from special in-store concerts and some unsigned local talent.
According to the NPD Group, a national market research firm, the number of people buying digital music online grew to 36 million between 2007 and 2008, while the number of CD buyers fell by 17 million people over the same period.
“It doesn't matter if someone's ripping something from a friend or if they've downloaded it and paid for it or not,” says Bland, whose brother is Style's art director. “We're not in the middle of those transactions. Now we can be.”
At its peak, Plan 9 had 10 stores, including its Carytown flagship. It's down to four, having just closed two stores this winter. Tough times and new challenges meant Bland had to find strength in numbers.
He and a consortium of roughly 50 independent record stores — including Looney Tunes in Long Island, N.Y., Lou's Records in Encinitas, Calif., and Magnolia Thunderpussy in Columbus, Ohio — have worked on the project for two years.
“We could never have done it independently,” he says.