Cassette tape sales had their best year since 2012

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Nielsen Media Research released its annual Music Year-End Report for 2017. It found that audiences are increasingly turning to on-demand streaming to get their music, while sales in physical media is declining. But some formats are experiencing a boost: sales of cassette tapes have increased, hitting their best year since 2012.

Cassette Tapes are in the midst of a revival: Nielsen reported last year that sales rose 74 percent to 129,000 units sold. That uptick was led by albums such as the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack, which featured the classic cassette tape prominently in the 2014 film. This year, those numbers rose further: Nielsen says that retailers sold 174,000 units, up 35 percent from last year’s numbers.

Nostalgia seems to be leading most of the charge: Billboard says that the three Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks led sales in 2017, which were followed by the Stranger Things, Volume 1 soundtrack, which hit stores last summer. Those projects were wildly popular with audiences, due in part to their reliance on nostalgia for the music and objects of the 1980s. Other popular albums include Eminem’s 2002 album The Eminem Show, Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind, and Kanye West’s 2013 album Yeezus.

Despite those gains, cassettes remain a niche format: consumers purchased 169.1 albums in 2017 (down 17.7 percent from 2016), while 14.3 million of those albums were vinyl.

Comments

Hopefully 13 Reasons Why has nothing to do with it.

Disco Stu doesn’t like to advertise.

Not a word about the impact that Record Store Day has had on this?

Cassettes have enjoyed a resurgence within the independent labels/artists because Record Store Day keeps flooding the very few record pressing plants left, with mediocre re-issues.

For many of my friends who are trying to release their music on vinyl, they’re having a wait of 8 months or more, and this definitely wasn’t an issue before the large labels got heavily invested in Record Store Day. Not to mention the effect that Brexit has had on artists and labels who’re in the UK (but now I’m going off on a tangent).

The alternative for many has been cassettes, which certainly don’t cost as much to produce, they still have a relatively good sound quality (as long as you’re not playing them in some cheap as shit Crosley thing), and it gives an option for fans who want a physical product rather than bits on a hard drive.

And these are only figures for NEW manufactured tapes.
There are billions of old tapes still in existence,many of them very good quality tapes kept in stable conditions..
I have original Philips c47/c60 tapes my mother bought in 1967,to go with her philips original portable recorder.
I also have tapes from the early 1970’s that are still in perfect condition,having only been used once to record an album off vinyl and done as pairs,so only played once as a check and then put away safe,I even have plenty of tdk ad’s and as’a etc of several generations,still in their plastic,so never exposed to atmosphere !!
Good tape kept properly can last a very long time,and like most vinyl,good vinyl from the 70’s/80’s is probably better than most available today,like my tangerine dream 70-80 limited edition virgin vinyl from nimbus (Germany),possibly the best vinyl ever produced..
Go to flea markets,boot sales etc etc and you can pick up low use tdk etc tapes for pennies..

Seeing record prices go from already exorbitant $20 averages years ago with a smattering of $10-15s and gatefold, 2xLPs for $25, to consistent asks of $25-30-35-40!!! is just bubble-you’re-about-to-buhurst stuff. CDs are experiencing upcreep too, as if the premiums on vinyl make those deja-vu-like $13-15 averages seem reasonable by comparison. The music industry obviously sees streaming subs as their butter, but if they can get some suckers to submit to a little old fashioned gouging, what the hey, they’re gonna. And indie acts have always been relegated to "you get pressed when the pop’s done, and it’ll be a while" land. Third Man was smart(ish?—bubblespeak) to invest in its own plant, where it can ensure it isn’t effed over, as it effs over its customers with "the going rate."

I’m a huge Rush fan and I want all the vinyl because I put them up on the wall – Hugh Syme’s cover art is worth it – so I bought all the reissues. Most of the late period stuff was never released on vinyl. So, I’m looking into a few other bands I’m a fan of, and I’m looking into things from when I was a kid, and I come across Def Leppard’s Hysteria on Amazon. Only $15, right before Christmas. Cool! But I didn’t buy it because I had other things to shop for. I went back the other day, and WTF – FORTY DOLLARS? SERIOUSLY? And today, it’s $30. Still highway robbery.

I don’t mind spending $15-18 on a newly pressed vinyl record, but asking twice that is crazy.

$30 isn’t really highway robbery. I have plenty of LP’s from the 70’s and 80’s that still have price tags on them… and while some are $5.99, a good number are $8, $10 or even $12 (those were probably mostly 80’s, though). I’m sure we’d all love to pay those same prices for vinyl now, but this was almost 40 years ago. $10 in 1980 is $31.71 now.

So they’ve basically maintained the same pricing even without the economy of scale, and often while giving us better quality vinyl than we would have had in those days. Nobody used to advertise "180 gram" vinyl in the 70s or 80s; you just took what they gave you, and 90% of the time it was a lot lighter and thinner than that. Occasionally you’d get some really nicely produced package on heavy vinyl – I remember my copy of The Beatles’ "Magical Mystery Tour" had a big book and came on heavy vinyl, and coincidentally you can buy an exact replica of that same package today for about the same as it would have cost then, adjusted for inflation. But most vinyl back then wasn’t that good. What we actually have now – while a lot less than we used to have – is better, on average, at least in terms of production quality.

(Not necessarily in terms of sound quality, but that’s because of the crappy way stuff’s recorded now, which just putting a piece of new music on vinyl doesn’t change.)

You’re absolutely right. Absolutely.

But here’s the thing. Back then, we didn’t have format competition. We bought LPs because that was what was available. Then, there was a bit of overlap with cassettes, but we bought cassettes en masse because that’s what was available. Then, CDs. For the most part, there was always one dominant format. At most, two would overlap for a bit. And the pricing reflected what we were – generally – willing to pay at the time for music. Pricing was – again, generally – format agnostic. (Yeah, I skipped over 8 track. Sue me lol)

So, today, what do we have? The dominant format is clearly digital. It’s a $10/month subscription to an all-you-can-eat streaming service, or it’s 99 cents per song, or it’s a few bucks for an older digital album on iTunes or Amazon (or a few bucks more for a newer album). We, collectively, have devalued music dramatically since the pre-internet days.

A vinyl record then, at $30 or $40… you’re right. Compared to the price it was in the 70’s? It’s not robbery at all. But compared to the dominant music format of today, it is. It’s a niche format aimed at collectors and people with very specific demands, and in my opinion, those people are being taken advantage of – because I could be wrong, but I believe the profit margin on vinyl is significantly higher for the labels. I believe the markup is significantly higher than it should be. Production costs thanks to new technology and techniques have to be lower than they were back in the day. That’s how industry works.

It’s as simple as supply and demand.

Maybe I’m dead wrong, but even though vinyl is in a resurgence, I doubt a typical new album sells as many copies on vinyl today as it did in the 70’s and 80’s.

And yeah, you’re right. Digital is way cheaper. That’s why it sells way better. But for anyone who wants the best analog sound quality, or an nice physical package, or both, vinyl is the clear choice, and we’re willing to pay for that. If nobody was buying them at $30, then the prices would drop.

Oh, and cassettes are cool, and durable, I guess, but cassettes suck. They do. Fidelity never rose to even come close to vinyl or CD, unless you’re talking purposeful haziness, hiss, and recording simplicity. It’s fine if you’re using a stock IROC stereo, but then you spend more on rolling rock or white lightning in a week anyway, so you don’t care, do you, slayer.

This is such a perfect comment.

Agreed – I mean, nostalgia’s great and all, but let’s just leave it there.

Cassette sound quality right at the end was just starting to get good for blank tapes, but pre-recorded tapes were always made for the lowest common denominator. If you had a Dolby S deck and were using a metal tape, you could get reasonably good sound (albeit still with more hiss and less range than a CD or vinyl). But any pre-recorded cassette that was actually mass produced would almost always be made from a Type 1 ferric oxide tape, and you’d be lucky if it was using Dolby B noise reduction. Most didn’t even have that. That’s because they had to make tapes that would play properly on the widest variety of decks, which meant requiring the fewest features relating to sound quality.

It would be kind of like playing 64kbps mp3 files on your home stereo, but with more hiss.

I don’t know how new pre-recorded cassettes are made, but I would guess it’s similar.

Does the recording quality degrade as you play it over and over?

All media degrades with time.

Mostly physical media.

Physical media degrades faster, yes.

The sound quality of CD’s does not degrade over time.

The sound quality may not, but the "recording quality" (which is the question that was asked) does. CD media degrades like any other media, and eventually it becomes unplayable.

When did I say anything about sound quality?

Does the recording quality degrade as you play it over and over?

Yes, and cassette degraded far worse and quickly than vinyl. The sound would eventually sound warped or muffled. The cassettes would also become more prone to tangling over time.

Take it from someone who turned 13 in 1969 and spent the 70’s buying over 300 albums and cassettes – cassettes suck. Why people would waste money on them is crazy to me.

Good news. People aren’t really. They’re being bought as a gimmick by a statistically insignificant number of people and no resurgence will ever change that.

For same reason people buy compressed crap off iTunes I guess. Disgrace.

You sound fun.

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