Despite having consistently mediocre sound quality, cassettes are back, baby! This January, Nielsen Music reported that the ‘80s-preferred method of music consumption had a 74 percent sales increase in 2016. There’s just one problem: The world is running out of physical cassette tape.
According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, there is less than a year’s supply left of cassette tape at the top manufacturer for cassettes. National Audio Co., a Missouri-based cassette manufacturer, has been hoarding leftover 1/8-inch-wide magnetic tape from suppliers that have shut down since the small clunkers really fell out of style (and automobiles) for good in the early 2000s.
But after a recent surge of high-profile releases opting for cassette rollouts, including The Hamilton Mixtpae, the soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy, classic reissues (Purple Rain and The Slim Shady LP), and even new pop records (Justin Bieber’s Purpose), the format’s found a reason to soldier on. National Audio’s president, Steve Stepp, tells WSJ that the company intends to go full speed ahead with producing more cassette tape:
It is building the first manufacturing line for high-grade ferric oxide cassette tape in the U.S. in decades. If all goes well, the machine will churn out nearly 4 miles of tape a minute by January. And not just any tape. “The best tape ever made,” boasts Mr. Stepp, 69 years old. “People will hear a whole new product.”
Although demand has surged recently, it’s worth noting that cassettes only moved 129,000 total units last year (a measly percentage of the slumping 200.8 million total albums sold, and 13.1 million vinyl records sold). It’s still a niche market, which may not demand thousands of miles of tape just yet, but they’re a cheap nostalgic alternative to vinyl—for both manufacturers and consumers. The fact that physical media is dying across all formats might be enough of a reason to keep it alive.