Sales of Cassette Tapes Have Quietly Grown 136.1% In the Past Year

Stack of Cassette Tapes
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Stack of Cassette Tapes
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photo: InspiredImages (CC 0)

Vinyl records aren’t the only media format on the rise.

Over the past few years, the classic cassette tape has been growing in popularity.  Oh so quietly.

The numbers aren’t huge, but they’re increasing.  According to media metrics firm BuzzAngle, cassette tape sales are up 136.1% from 2016 to 2017.  That’s part of a multi-year growth trend that’s largely gone unnoticed.

It’s also part of an unexpectedly resilient demand for physical  formats.  During the 2017 holiday season (technically November 17th through December 28th), 69% of albums purchased were physical albums (CDs, vinyl albums, or cassettes).  With an increase of 130% since the 2016 holiday season, a total of 26,699 cassette tapes were sold during the 2017 holiday season.

According to BuzzAngle, sales of cassettes approached 100,000 units in 2017.  That equates to just 0.1% of total physical album sales.  But that’s up from approximately 0.0% only a few years ago.

As CDs implode, cassette tapes and vinyl records are filling the physical void.

Amazingly, vinyl records are entering their twelfth straight year of coming back, driven largely by nostalgia.  According to Nielsen Music, 2017 saw the sale of 14.3 million vinyl LPs in the US alone.  The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band accounted for 72,000 of those sales.

+ Why I Still Buy Music in the Age of Spotify

But are cassettes just a fleeting fad?

That’s a difficult question to answer.  The cassette tape probably won’t ride the same nostalgic comeback wave enjoyed by the vinyl LP.  And part of the reason is that cassettes are driven by cultural ‘events’.  “Pop culture milestones have driven its numbers back up,” TechCrunch smartly observed.

Indeed, a few modern hit series — including Netflix hit Stranger Things — have released their soundtracks on cassette, spurring the return.   The Marvel Cinematic Universe film and its sequel helped to nourish the once-dead cassette as well.

Hamilton, Prince’s Purple Rain, and Nirvana’s Nevermind have been among the most popular albums that saw an influx in cassette tape sales.

Now, the question is whether those represent quirky one-offs or the beginning of a trend.


5 Responses

  1. Nicky Knight

    I’ve always said here at DMN that the Phillips compact audio cassette is bouncing back because it’s a physical artifak, a souvenir, a heirloom, a mementos, something you can hold in your hand and marvel at.

    • Chris E

      Also there is definitely nostalgia around cassette tapes for 80s kids, especially alongside Sony Walkmans.

  2. Buffetboss

    I would like to know if 30 to 40 year old bluegrass and country music cassette tapes would be wanted by that genre’s fans.

  3. Sal

    I recently pulled my Sony TCK-611S cassett recorder out of storage. These were high quality machines with Dolby “S” noise reduction. My car doesn’t even have a cassette player but I’m hooking it up to my stereo system anyway. There’s just something cool about the way the deck (and cassettes) look. Ya, you can make a perfect CD with your PC but it’s just not the same as a cassette. Maybe it’s the subtle “pink noise” on the cassette (despite Dolby) that gives cassettes (and vinyl) their appeal. Who knows, perhaps reel-to-reel decks will also make a comeback.

  4. jmaier

    I have around 100 cassette tapes that I would like to donate to ?–mainly classical, some jazz. Help!