Say So Long to an Old Companion: Cassette Tapes





There was a funeral the other day in the Midtown offices of Hachette, the book publisher, to mourn the passing of what it called a “dear friend.” Nobody had actually died, except for a piece of technology, the cassette tape.

While the cassette was dumped long ago by the music industry, it has lived on among publishers of audio books. Many people prefer cassettes because they make it easy to pick up in the same place where the listener left off, or to rewind in case a certain sentence is missed. For Hachette, however, demand had slowed so much that it released its last book on cassette in June, with “Sail,” a novel by James Patterson and Howard Roughan.

The funeral at Hachette — an office party in the audio-book department — mirrored the broader demise of cassettes, which gave vinyl a run for its money before being eclipsed by the compact disc. (The CD, too, is in rapid decline, thanks to Internet music stores, but that is a different story.)

Cassettes have limped along for some time, partly because of their usefulness in recording conversations or making a tape of favorite songs, say, for a girlfriend. But sales of portable tape players, which peaked at 18 million in 1994, sank to 480,000 in 2007, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. The group predicts that sales will taper to 86,000 in 2012.

“I bet you would be hard pressed to find a household in the U.S. that doesn’t have at least a couple cassette tapes hanging around,” said Shawn DuBravac, an economist with the Consumer Electronics Association. Even if publishers of music and audio books stopped using cassettes entirely, people would still shop for tape players because of “the huge libraries of legacy content consumers have kept,” he said.


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