Page last updated at 10:14 GMT, Saturday, 18 April 2009 11:14 UK

Music stores hope for sound future

By Duncan Bartlett
Business reporter, BBC News

With the aid of a computer and a credit card, it is easy to buy almost any piece of music that has ever been released.

But for a keen fan, nothing will match the experience of browsing the shelves of a favourite music shop and choosing a new CD or a record to add to the collection.

More than 400 independent record shops have closed since 2005

To mark Record Store Day on Saturday, many artists issued special releases that can only be bought in independent shops.

Vinyl singles from Bruce Springsteen, Radiohead and Bob Dylan have been pressed to mark the occasion, and many shops in the UK and the US are hosting concerts or special events.

Many musicians have sent messages of support to the shops. "There's nothing as glamorous to me as a record store," said Paul McCartney.

"When I recently played Amoeba in LA, I realised what fantastic memories such a collection of music brings back when you see it all in one place. I hope that these kinds of stores will be there for us all for many years to come."

Graham Jones, who manages the distribution company Proper Music, believes he has visited more record shops than anyone else in the UK.

You could spend all day in here and get lost and that's what we want people to do
Spencer Hickman, Rough Trade

In the past four years, he says more than 500 stores have closed down, leaving around 300. "If you take Bristol, for example, there used to be five record shops on Park Street just four years ago," he says.

"Now they are all gone. It is such a shame because they were a part of the community and people gathered there to talk about music or to make friends. You can't replicate the experience online."

Mr Jones, who has just published a book about the fate of local record shops, believes the stores that will survive are those that offer a specialist service, perhaps focusing on particular genres of music or offering customers advice.

Shopper browsing in record store
Many fans believe you cannot beat the experience of browsing in stores

One of his favourite shops is the Rough Trade store in east London. Its sales are rising, partly due to the recent demise of its competitor, Zavvi, which used to be a part of the Virgin Group.

Spencer Hickman runs the Rough Trade store near Brick Lane. "I think the stores that are left are good at what we do," he says. "People come to this store because they want the experience. You could spend all day in here and get lost and that's what we want people to do."

He laughs at the stereotype of grumpy and aloof shop assistants as portrayed in Nick Hornby's bestselling book about record shops, High Fidelity.

"Every one of my staff, whether they're into dubstep or metal or folk, absolutely loves what they do," he says. "They don't work here because they get paid a lot of money. It's because of their passion for music and they want to share that passion with the customers."

Record stores like Rough Trade also champion new bands, some of which are signed to their own label.

Bull Moose record store in Scarborough, Maine
Record Store Day activities are taking place around the world

In Wales, many local indie bands have found a new audience thanks to the support of Spillers Records in Cardiff, which has sold more than 400 copies of a compilation of local talent known as Twisted By Design.

Spillers claims to be the oldest record shop in the world, tracing its history back 105 years, when it originally sold phonograph players and shellac records.

It faced closure in 2006, but was saved after a vigorous campaign by local politicians and musicians including the Manic Street Preachers.

Some people fear that the surging popularity of internet downloads will kill off record shops for good within a few years. But rising sales of vinyl, up 20% in the past year, are helping to keep a niche market alive.

Mr Hickman recalls a young female customer who came into his Rough Trade store recently and spent £250 on vinyl.

"She said that she had already downloaded the music online, but she has just received her first pay cheque and she wanted to spend her money on records," he explains.

"She was only about 17 years old. I thought, if only we had a hundred people like you - our future would be secure!"

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