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Mark the CD Trader, a shop in an Oceanside strip mall that had been open for over a year, closed last month. Rhino Westwood, in L.A., pulled the plug last month after 30 years. Aron's (in business for 40 years) and Vinyl Fetish are a couple more well-known L.A.-area indie record stores that have recently gone belly up.

"Things are real tough for independent stores," says Norm Leggio, owner of Blue Meannie in El Cajon. "It used to be you had to come here to get product from [indie metal labels] Metal Blade, Relapse, and Century Media. Now, if you go to Best Buy, across the street, they are giving it away at cost. It used to be big chains wouldn't touch metal with a ten-foot pole.... All they had to do is look up on Soundscan and see that a lot of dirtbag metalheads live [in the El Cajon area].... I saw where 85 percent of all consumers download music now. Doomsday will come when everyone starts downloading, but I don't see that happening real soon."

According to SoundScan, in 2005, digital album sales were up 194 percent from the previous year. Meanwhile, CD sales were down by 7 percent. Apple iTunes sells more tracks than the Tower or Borders chains. Four years ago, there were 23 Wherehouse outlets in the county; now there are 3.

"Unless you're a collector, it seems like [music purchases] are all going to be MP3," says Josh Jones, who works at Spin Records in Carlsbad. "Especially for a small store like us, it's a hard thing to stay afloat when everybody turns to downloading music."

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