As Cassette Store Day 2018 approaches (13.10.2018), I have reminded myself how quickly technology has progressed in the last 30 years and driven cassettes to the brink. Is there hope for the old darling of the 80’s and 90’s?
In 1989, over 83 million music cassettes were sold worldwide. By 2006 this was down to 100,000 excluding blanks and audio tapes. It was estimated in 2007 that there were 500 million tapes in circulation in the UK alone, but at this point they were dusty old relics destined for car boot sales or charity shops. I’ve highlighted 2007 as the lowest ebb in the short history of the humble cassette. An era in which the BBC website was suggesting we sink tapes into concrete as outdoor decoration or adapt them into jewellery and belt buckles. It was also the year that the UK’s largest electronic store, Currys, announced it would stop selling cassettes and cassette players. The outlook was bleak then, and despite some interesting developments remains on a knife edge.
State of the Nation
When I stumbled upon my 5 remaining cassettes a few weeks ago and decided to reignite my passion for the little plastic cases, I anticipated finding hundreds of them in the various charity shops that line the streets of ailing high streets. My goodness I. You see that ship has almost certainly sailed. I was told in 5 out of 7 charity shops in the small market town of Somerset in the UK that they no longer accept cassettes as donations, and that if they unknowingly receive them, they recycle them. All of them. No questions asked!
My straw poll of 7 shops shouldn’t be taken too seriously though. There are almost certainly thousands of amazing musical experiences just waiting to be discovered in attics, garages, boot sales and flea markets. What is still of massive concern though, is the availability of devices to play them on. eBay is the most obvious and best option for finding a cassette deck for the more passionate music lovers out there. These vary in price, but are probably the best kit out there, providing you are happy to invest in an amp and some speakers to go with it? For me though, this project is laced with nostalgia. I want a Ghetto Blaster. A Boom Box. If I want a good one, I should expect to part with between £100 & £2,000 – a figure that is going up by the day. I’m working on this at the moment and look forward to posting on my findings. I haven’t looked into walkmans yet.
So despite this doom and gloom, why am I so excited to be rediscovering cassettes? Because there are a growing number of people who have remained loyal to the cassette, and it feels like a whole load more are about to follow. In the first half of 2018, 18,500 new cassettes were sold in the UK alone. This is up 90% on the previous 6 months and follows a trend of 6 years growth in the production of new cassettes. Until recently these new tapes were seemed wholly focused on upcoming Indie and Electronic artists, but more recently artists like Eminem and Metallica have jumped on board and released limited edition cassettes. The establishment of Cassette Store Day will almost certainly have promoted this growth, along with the production of cassettes still being quick and cheap to produce despite the much lower economy of scale. Any unsigned act can run a small number of tapes and they are as cool as hell to sell at gigs and festivals. Like the vinyl these come in exciting colours and textures with inlay artwork to consider too. It’s a really exciting space to be getting involved with and I’ve only really been looking at it for a couple of weeks.
Onto the market that I initially got excited about, old tapes are being bought, sold, traded and reviewed all over the world. Imagine how many classic tapes are sitting, in dust covered boxes, just waiting to be discovered. I feel like one of the biggest challenges for anyone looking to start a collection of cassettes is finding them before they hit the recycling plant. Tapes are starting to get expensive in places and certain genres when picked up on auction sites, but will more often be found priced incredibly low!
I have also been buoyed by the commitment of some electronic manufacturers like Toshiba to create new cassette players that allow digital recording and a higher definition sound quality.
More to follow people, but it’s clear to see that the cassette community is alive and kicking. Even if charity shops are no longer accepting them or sending the plastic cases in cases to an early grave!
Thanks for reading…