Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Cassette Store Called ...

Riding the coat tails of Record Store Day (20-April-2013), it was just announced that 7-September-2013 will be the first International Cassette Store Day. I swore this had to be a parody when I first got the Tweet, but the organizers seem sincere and committed (if misguided).
International Cassette Store Day makes no sense. Need convincing? Let me count the ways.
First, there is the name. We all know what a record store is. Record Store Day was created to celebrate them — the neighborhood bricks-and-mortar independent music retailer — not any particular music delivery format. The Cassette Store Day promotion aspires to be equally cool, but fails for the same reason the "Jerk Store" rejoinder failed in The Comeback episode of Seinfeld: no one knows what a Cassette Store is, or if any exist.
Consider raison d'etre. Why did tapes thrive for a time? The advantage of the cassette over any other competing physical format was portability. That advantage was obliterated by the audio CD, and then they were both rendered obsolete by weightless digital. The original tape-playing Sony Walkman is long gone, and tape decks and CD players have been displaced in new automobiles by iPod/USB ports. What is the market for new cassette titles?

As a result, let's look at market impact. Physical album sales declined 13% between 2011 and 2012. (Source: Neilsen Soundscan). While estimated cassette sales quadrupled in the same time period, they still accounted for 0.1% (one tenth of one percent) of the market share for album sales in 2012. Cassette sales peaked in 1988 (25 years ago!) and bottomed out in 2005. A Cassette Day sales bump would produce an insignificant change in a dying sector.
 Finally, there is sleeping with the enemy. Record Store Day was created at least in part as a protest against online music retailers threatening the livelihood of bricks-and-mortar record stores. The organizers of Cassette Store Day have elected to include online retailers in the promotion. If there are bricks-and-mortar cassette stores, aren't they afraid online cassette stores will kill their already-unsustainable business?
Let's celebrate September 7th as the anniversary of the first Miss America pageant (1921) or the opening of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1963). No need to lionize obsolete physical media.
            Physical-to-Digital Restoration #58            

Artist: Kate Bush
Title: The Whole Story
Genre: Alternative
Year: 1986

The Whole Story is a compilation album that reached no. 1 in the UK album chart and was certified 4x Platinum in the UK by the British Phonographic Industry. It is one of the 0.06% (zero point six percent) of the roughly one thousand titles in my lossless, weightless digital library originally sourced on cassette.

© 2013 Thomas G. Dennehy. All rights reserved.


  1. Ridiculous blog post. The implication that record store day has nothing to do with records is silly and dishonest. And then to somehow imply that cassette store day is about actual cassette stores (as if such a thing exists) and not about promoting cassettes is just plain dim. Wow.

  2. Dim indeed! Cassette tapes were popular because they allowed us to take music that was previously shackled to a home playback system and make it portable. Just try fitting a vinyl record and turntable in your coat pocket!! It also allowed us to create our own albums with a playing time that greatly exceeded that of a record album - 45 min. continuously instead of 23 min.

    And, if you had access to the better tape recorders - B&O, Tandberg, Nakamichi, etc. - it was possible to make a tape that was virtually indistinguishable from the original vinyl. I made quite a few tapes using B&O's 9000 deck with Dolby HXPro and they sounded very, very good indeed. The same could be said of Tandberg's 30xx series of decks (3014, etc.) with their DynEQ and ActiLinear circuitry - the tapes were astonishingly good sounding! And the Tandbergs also featured a *blazing* fast rewind and fast forward that was smart enough to slow down the speed as it approached the end or beginning of the tape. Tape stretch or breakage from ffwd and rewind was banished forever.

    I was very heavily invested in cassette tapes back in the mid-70s thru early 80s and they offered an unbeatable combination of portability, convenience, and sound quality. I recorded ALL of my favorite albums to cassette immediately and then used the tape to enjoy the music - many of my albums have only one or two "plays" on them....