Cassette Tape Sales Soar: from Major Artists To Underground Electronic Music

15th February 2017

Vinyl shmynl, the real analogue story of this year (ok, it’s only February) is the growth in sales of the cassette tape

Apparently, cassette album sales in the USA grew by 74% in 2016 with 129,000 copies sold (up from 74,000 in 2015) according to Nielsen Music.

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Don’t get too excited folks. If you look at the total album sales in the USA alone then you’re looking at a little over 200 million so the cassette figures are a speck on that score. Even vinyl has past the 13 million figure. But look, cassettes were supposed to have been dead and buried for years – everyone said so, didn’t they? – so this latest figure is pretty incredible on that basis.

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So what’s going on? Well, there’s been several ‘speciality’ releases of late including cassette issues via Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, Eminem and Prince (well, his estate, at any rate). The new cassettes typically come with a code for a digital download of the album, for those consumers who don’t own a cassette player. But look, 25 albums actually exceeded 1,000 cassettes sold last year which is pretty good going while the Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 soundtrack, actually reached 4,000.

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Urban Outfitters has been a major force behind cassette releases (they’re responsible for 21% of cassette sales alone) releasing a swathe of titles such as the soundtrack to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Kanye West’s Yeezus and The 1975’s I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It. Most cassette albums were sold through Internet and web-based direct-to-consumer and independent retail.

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Cassette Store Day, which took place on 8 October 2016, also helped sales due to a number of exclusive items on sale.

With vinyl pressing plants under major strain to fulfil orders, some observers believe that cassette may play a part in taking up the slack for some artists.

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While we’re on the subject, take a peek at the mini-documentary on how the tape-based experimental electronic scene was created. The documentary was created by my chums at Vinyl Factory.