While the continued return of vinyl rightfully draws a lot of attention, there’s another format that’s on the comeback trail: the cassette. Cassette album sales grew by 74 percent in 2016 with 129,000 copies sold (up from 74,000 in 2015) according to Nielsen Music.
Certainly, 129,000 is a tiny figure compared to the total number of albums and vinyl albums that were sold in 2016. Overall album sales totaled 200.8 million (down 17 percent), while vinyl albums sold 13.1 million (up 10 percent). But, considering that cassettes were effectively a dead format that had little love from audiophiles (unlike vinyl aficionados, who are devoted to the warm grooves of the LP), selling any cassettes at all is a pretty major feat.
Cassettes have seen growth thanks to specialty releases of recent albums, including Justin Bieber’s Purpose and The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness (each sold nearly 1,000 in 2016), along with reissues of classic albums like Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP (3,000) and Prince and the Revolution’s Purple Rain (2,000). 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.
In 2016, 25 albums sold at least 1,000 copies on cassette in 2016, compared to just eight in 2015. The top selling cassette album of both years was the Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 soundtrack, with 4,000 sold in each year. In total, the Guardians tape, which was released in 2014, has sold 11,000 copies. (Its sales are no doubt enhanced by how the tape is modeled after the cassette seen in the film.)
A fair number of cassettes in the recent past have been released exclusively to Urban Outfitters, including Bieber’s Purpose and The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness, along with such titles 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. Non-traditional music stores, like Urban Outfitters, accounted for 21 percent of cassette album sales in 2016 (27,000). The bulk of cassette albums were sold through Internet and web-based direct-to-consumer settings (43 percent; 55,000), while the rest came from independent retail stores (33 percent; 42,000) and chains and mass merchants (a little under 5 percent; 6,000).
Cassette album sales also got a boost from Cassette Store Day, the retail celebration designed to bolster all things cassette. Last year’s event took place around the world on Oct. 8, and featured a bevy of tapes available exclusively at independent retailers, as well as in-store concerts and promotions.