The Unexpected Return of Cassette Tapes

1 min read
cassette tapes billie eilish olivia rodrigo taylor swift midnights sony walkman tiktok

The humble cassette tape is making an unexpected comeback and sales of the physical music format have significantly risen in the last few years.


 

@heartdefensor listen to my new Olivia Rodrigo sour exclusive cassette with me 💜 what song should I play next? #oliviarodrigo #dejavu #cassettetape #sour ♬ deja vu – Olivia Rodrigo


 

Context

  • Pre-recorded cassette tapes became a popular format for listening to music in the 1970s and 1980s. Following the introduction of the Sony Walkman in 1979, cassette sales peaked at an all-time high in 1989.
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  • The arrival of the CD crushed the popularity of cassette tapes in the early 1990s. Sony stopped making the walkman in 2010 and the format was largely forgotten about.
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  • Vinyl record sales surged during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic and as a result, audio cassette tapes experienced a revival too.
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  • The renewed interest in the format led to artists, like Billie Eilish and Harry Styles, making their most recent albums available in cassette tape format. In 2022, Taylor Swift released her latest record-breaking album Midnights on cassette tape.
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  • In 2022, sales of albums on cassette tapes in the U.S. increased by 28% to 440,000 (up from 343,000 in 2021). In 2015, cassettes sold just 74,000 copies. The top-selling cassette in 2022 was the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol.2 (2017). Cassettes featured prominently in the storyline of the Marvel film.
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  • Cassettes are considerably cheaper than vinyl records and the inexpensive price point is driving the audio format’s popularity. However, limited-edition cassette tapes have also started demanding higher resale prices on eBay. Rare second-hand tapes of Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia and Michael Jackson’s Thriller can fetch over $200.
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Why it matters: When everything is digital, consumers are rediscovering the value of physical artifacts that can be held in their hands.

  • The pandemic changed the music industry and how fans choose to experience music. With concerts and festivals banned for almost two years, consumers re-discovered physical music formats like cassette tapes. Big artists responded by releasing their new music on cassettes, allowing them to have a greater physical connection with their fans.
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  • On TikTok, the hashtag #cassette has over 323 million views. Gen Z users praise the imperfect warmth of analog sound, the way the tape slowly rotates in the player, and how the physicality of a cassette makes them “feel.”
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  • But it is not just the nostalgic Gen Z consumers who are buying cassettes. Millennials in the U.S. are 42% more likely to buy cassette tapes than listeners from other generations.
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@its.me._alex like #cassette #fyp #fypシ #cvm #cpr #mitski #mitskitok #ilovemitski ♬ original sound – Niki

What’s next: In February, Sony re-released two modern versions of the Walkman for music downloads and streaming. Could Sony be releasing a new cassette-playing Walkman soon?

In HBO’s hit show The Last of Us this month, Ellie listens to songs on an old Sony Walkman and this further re-ignited interest in the iconic portable music player.