Are Cassettes the New Vinyl? This Could Be the Beginning…

Once upon a time, vinyl was pronounced dead.  A few years later, the same thing happened for cassettes.  Are both formats now roaring back?

Of course, cassettes will never make a comeback.  Just like vinyl would never make a comeback.  But last year, sales of vinyl LPs and EPs reached reached a 25-year high.

But that’s not the only format recovering.  According to sales data emerging this week from Nielsen Soundscan, cassette sales increased 74% in 2016.

Of course, that raises the next question: 74% of what?  Well, not nothing: according to the US-based data, sales of new cassette tapes reached 129,000 last year, up from 95,460 in 2015.  By comparison, 13 million vinyl records were sold in the US during the same period.

People Are Receiving Mysterious Cassette Tapes In The Mail

Across all formats, 200 million albums were sold.  That figures includes CDs and downloadable albums, both declining formats that still eclipse vinyl and cassette sales.  In fact, CD albums still sold 105 million units in 2016, if you can believe that.

In other words, cassettes sales are peanuts.  Then again, vinyl sales were peanuts back in 2004, when everyone was calling the vinyl comeback a fad.  Beyond that, these are only sales of new cassettes (and vinyl records), not used copies.  And when it comes to vintage nostalgia, used is actually more valuable.  But it’s also a lot more difficult to accurately count.

Guardians of the Galaxy?

So let’s see where this goes.  In the meantime, here are some fun facts.  According to Nielsen, the best-selling cassettes in 2016 was the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy.  That’s probably because the soundtrack was the personal mixtape of Guardians character Peter Quill.

Other best-sellers included Eminem and Prince, whose cassette reissues fetched a few thousands copies each.  And both Justin Bieber’s Purpose and The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness sold 1,000 each.

Actually, a big puzzle piece in all of this is brick-and-mortar retailer.  That includes smaller record stores, which are enjoying a small resurgence.

Think the Cassette Tape Is Dead? Introducing ‘Cassette Store Day 2016’

But this discussion wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Urban Outfitters, which is selling cassettes in stores.  Incidentally, Urban Outfitters claims to be the largest vinyl seller in America, and they’ve been at this for years.

Are they already the biggest sellers of cassettes?

13 Responses

  1. Nicky Knight's audio cassette post

    I’ve written many times here about The Return of The Cassette

    Cassettes have many advantages over vinyl

    1. Cost
    2. Production Lead Times (very fast from concept to finished article)
    3. Very small, small, medium to large production runs
    4. Perfect size for Internet Mail-Order distribution

    The cassette offers a tactile souvenir collectable object that can sit in it’s place
    on the shelf, handled and viewed with curiosity and marveled at.

    There are many reports on the Internet about the growth of the audio cassette
    and I see that continuing.

    Great that DMN has finally published a report about this recorded music
    phenomenon.

    • Michael Pannoni

      The visual cousin, the video cassette, also has a similar “used is better” matra with regards to any interest. Sure, there are still many VHS tapes that have never been reissued onto DVD or newer formats, and this is especially valuable for releases during the early days of the format during the late ’70s/early-mid ’80s. Also of note is blank, pre-recorded tapes consisting of content that has been recorded off of TV, ranging from TV shows not released on DVD like soap operas, game shows, and obscure dramas like Crazy As A Fox and Downtown, to sporting events, to musical programs (including early MTV), and even commercials and local kids shows. Audio cassettes also have its own blanks which may consist of radio airchecks, and interviews with popular artists are still sought after. But who needs their old Walkman when a contemporary smartphone can do all it can, plus more? At least vinyl is the more classic physical format, and you can’t deny the cover art and classic hi-fi sounds. Cassettes will be a niche just like what 8-track tapes still are.

    • CG

      I still have a fondness for cassette tapes. I’ve always enjoyed playing them. I have cassettes that continue to play ok after 25+ years. I am surprised they are still playing well, but as long as they are serving the purpose to which I bought them I will continue to use them. One must embrace the ‘hiss’! Tape hiss = Warmth. A familiar old feeling. Listening to “Detroit Breakdown” by the J. GEILS BAND on an old Atlantic ‘Greatest Hits’ cassette as I type this. ♣Aces♣

    • Momo

      Cassettes should be considered a merch item at best. The fidelity, compared to other formats, is horrible. Technically vinyl can have a higher fidelity than CD’s which makes it potentially appealling. In my mind, the good old CD still takes a lot of beating though – sure the cover art is not as big as vinyl, but bigger than cassette, and you get the liner notes and high fidelity.

    • Ronald Dixon

      So the advantages for the cassette format is cost, production lead time, flexibility with production runs, and selling in the mail.

      Are there any advantages to the consumer?

      Tactile object – not as good as vinyl or CD
      Audio quality – not nearly as good as vinyl or CD

      I guess they work best for people who enjoy re-spooling tape with a pencil?

  2. River

    I’ve been curious lately about walking around in public with a personal tape player and headphones (which I still own mine from 2002) or a CD walkman and see the sort of reactions I’ll get.

  3. Cassette Stowaway

    I have been thinking of starting an audio cassette only label for
    instrumental electronic music and possibly for a hybrid concept of spoken audio drama with a electronic music backdrop.

    The digital landscape is so overcrowded that the physical space now offers greater scope for finding it’s own market..

  4. Paul

    Cassettes are definitely making a comeback… take a look at Mixxtape – The Cassette Reinvented (go to http://www.mixx.im). Launches on Kickstarter the week of 5/15.

  5. jim bretzfelder

    Have been stock piling them from garage sales,etc.have over 200 blanks,good brands.usually 10 cents to a quarter.people just wanna get rid of them.

  6. Andy

    Personally I love cassettes. I have recently started buying some from eBay, Amazon, etc. from the 80s and 90s. I hope the labels will release more major releases on cassette too.

  7. StevePowell0

    A good chrome or metal tape can sound just as good as CD. I have a 2015 car and use a Walkman plugged into the aux socket and it sounds really good! People have realised that streaming services are convenient but you never actually own anything and physical music is making a comeback and very much like Vinyl, the Cassette is becoming more and more popular and collectable.