The demise of the independent sector has been rapid, brutal and in inverse proportion to the rise of downloading and the digital revolution. [source: Belfast Telegraph]
And, no, I’m not contradicting myself. The independent music sector is alive and well, though changing. The decline of indie record shops all over the UK (which is echoed in North America and elsewhere) is likely in some small way due to digital downloads, but I would think the greater factor in this decline has been the immense growth of giants like Walmart in this space. And there are signs that the decline of conventional indie distribution is in step with this trend.
Putting the well-known fate of former music retail giant Tower Records aside), the indie shop casualties are significant in their own right, and the pattern of retail concentration is consistent with a trend I’ve identified previously: the ghettoization of online music. Anyone clamoring for Police tickets will appreciate the mounting costs of music performance in face to face environments, and those costs are best recouped by companies with expanded capital, large artist rosters, and better tolerance for financial risk.
Meanwhile, the demise of indie retail suggests the dissolution of human tastemakers who used to inhabit these face to face sites for music buying (the folks Nick Hornby has described in gory detail). They are reconstituting themselves elsewhere, in new hybrids of the aesthetic, the social, and the technical.
At any rate, the independent music industry is thriving online. There’s no mistaking it.