Despite the inferior audio quality (and occasionally having to wind them on with a pencil) the humble cassette is enjoying a continued renaissance. According to the Official Charts Company, nearly 65,000 music cassettes were sold in the UK in the first six months of 2020.
As noted by the BBC (opens in new tab), the OCC says this figure is double that of the cassette sales recorded during the same period in 2019 – and let's not forget, last year cassette tapes recorded their highest sales figures in 15 years. The 2020 figure also trounces the entire year's sales from 2018, and we're only in July.
Why is this happening? Well, after the 40th birthday of the Sony Walkman last year, retro-chic products such as Bluetooth portable cassette players have been garnering plenty of attention, and artists from Billie Eilish (whose 2019 album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, shifted 4,000 cassette copies in five months) to 5 Seconds of Summer (who sold 12,000 cassette versions of their latest album, Calm, within the first week of release) have been taking note.
5 Seconds of Summer in fact offer five different variations of tangible music product, all of which can actually sit on devout fans' shelves, as a physical symbol of their devotion, rather than being invisibly stored as a digital file in a cloud.
Lady Gaga may also have played her part in the 2020 cassette sales figures. Gaga's new album, Chromatica, has sold 12,000 cassettes since its release in May 2020. It's available in a mint green single tape format, but the triple-cassette offering, currently on sale for £23.99 ($30) means each set of three cassettes actually counts as three sales in the chart. So that will help the sales figures.
Of course, cassette sales still represent what Gennaro Castaldo from the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) called a "tiny fraction" of UK music sales overall. For clarity, Lewis Capaldi's Someone You Loved was streamed 228 million times in 2019, and according to Wikipedia, by June 20th 2019, Billie Eilish's When We All Fall Asleep had sold 1,304,000 equivalent album units, of which 343,000 are pure sales. So, 4,000 cassettes is rather small fry.
That said, industry pros have predicted that cassette sales could cross 100,000 this year, for the first time since 2003. Where 2019 bettered 2004, 2020 might trounce 2003. It's like we're literally rewinding...