Opinion

The cassette revival? Don't believe the hype

Is the cassette really the chosen format for music hipsters or is the hype around an outmoded format just more record industry marketing? Our man Eamonn Forde adjudicates…

Free usage cassette tape

Given that the record industry was in free fall between 2000 and 2014, you can’t fault it for wanting to accentuate the positives whenever and wherever it can. So in the wake of “the vinyl revival” it is now time to make way for “the cassette revival”.

In an age of streaming where the consumer has a nebulous relationship with music that has been reduced to a string of zeros and ones on their laptops and phones, here is proof that the physical music object has taken on a new totemic power.

The act of buying a cassette – that most user-unfriendly of music formats – is now presented as nothing less than a consumer uprising. The tangible has trumped the digital.

Except, well, that’s hokum.

If the “rise” of cassettes is a triumph of anything it is a triumph of marketing. They are designed to appeal to hardcore fans, themselves a dwindling demographic, who want to snap up everything associated with a favourite act where this most moribund of formats actually becomes a form of merchandise. In that sense cassettes are no different to a Taylor Swift T-shirt or an iPhone case with the faces of BTS on it.

No artist is going to fatten up their retirement fund from selling cassettes

Crucially, because they are audio formats, they also count towards the top 40, helping to jet-power an album to the higher echelons of the charts in its crucial opening week at a time when streams often take weeks to gather sufficient head of steam to give the album a strong placing.

Yet what is not talked about in the middle of these jubilations about “the return of the cassette” is that they are done in small runs where the unit costs are high and the profit margins are slim. No artist is going to fatten up their retirement fund from selling cassettes.

Context is everything. Cassette sales are up 112%, according to the BPI and the Official Charts Company. That sounds mightily impressive – until you realise that they make up just 0.2% of all album sales in the UK. In total, 36,000 cassettes were sold in the UK in the first half of this year and a handful of acts dominate.

Billie Eilish alone accounted for 4,000 of those sales. The sheen is knocked off this somewhat when you note that 7,000 homes in the UK still have black and white TVs.

Be wary of the claims about this cassette renaissance. It’s like Ikea getting excited about the return of lino.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Westminsterism may think it knows best – but dismantling it can help us move forward
Affected families in Westminster after the damning report into the infected blood scandal was published
John Bird

Westminsterism may think it knows best – but dismantling it can help us move forward

We took the Home Office to task for lying on modern slavery. We still don’t have answers
car washes have been highlighted as modern slavery hotspots
MAYA ESSLEMONT

We took the Home Office to task for lying on modern slavery. We still don’t have answers

We can make the four-day working week a reality – and make it work for everyone. Here's how
Andrew Fennell

We can make the four-day working week a reality – and make it work for everyone. Here's how

How the life-affirming power of the chicken helped me understand grief and loss
Catherine Swire

How the life-affirming power of the chicken helped me understand grief and loss

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know