Cassettes are back

Cassette tape sales are surging again due to nostalgic collectors.

If you’re old enough, you likely remember waiting hours for your favorite songs to come on the radio so you could add them to your mixtapes.

Today, songs are available on-demand, yet the humble tape is making a comeback.

Between 2020 and 2021, sales nearly doubled from 173k to 343k.

Cassette tapes…

… were developed in the 1960s by Philips. They caught on because:

  • Anyone could record audio on them, hence the rise of the mixtape
  • Sony’s Walkman, which debuted in 1979, let music lovers listen to their favorite tunes anywhere

Between 1963 and 1988, 3B+ tapes were sold. But by the ‘90s, CDs had mostly replaced cassettes, followed by digital music libraries.

So why the comeback?

While audiophiles often argue vinyl is the best way to listen to music, no one’s ever made that claim for cassettes.

Yet nostalgia has pushed them back into pop culture:

  • In “Stranger Things,” a Kate Bush tape not only played a pivotal role, but made the singer’s 1985 hit “Running Up That Hill” a modern chart topper.
  • Artists including Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, and The Weeknd have recently released albums on tape.

Tapes also appeal to collectors. Most are cheap, though some fetch high prices.

  • A 1996 Linkin Park demo, from back when they were known as Xero, sold for $4.5k in 2021.

Fun fact: The original Walkman came with two headphone jacks for dual listening, but it turned out consumers preferred to listen solo.

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