Vintage cassettes are flying off the shelf at La Rola Records in Tijuana
Shoptalk buzzing throughout San Diego County record shops and swap meets is that vintage cassette tapes sell fast in 2021, particularly ’80s rock music cassettes by Mötley Crüe, Whitesnake, Poison, Ratt, REO Speedwagon, Journey, and Twisted Sister.
Let's rewind a little bit so you can see how cassette tapes disappeared as their sales plummeted and auto-reversed back into online shopping carts during the pandemic.
Cassettes were 86ed from local retail stores in the 2000s because CDs were more affordable to manufacture, and the format produced a better sound quality. The invention of the MP3 player followed by the iPod in 2001 further edged out the cassette from the music sales’ market share pie. Per Billboard, domestic cassette sales dropped from about 2.67 million to about 1.23 million in 2006. In 2008, cassette sales fell to about 82,000. The numbers bottomed out to a reported 21,000 in 2010, as rubber bands that drove the mechanisms within the boomboxes, car stereos, Walkmans, and cassette players from the 1970s-1990s disintegrated within the analog apparatuses.
In 2015, domestic cassette sales were trending back up to 74,000, according to Nielsen Music, partly because Chinese manufacturers cranked out new boomboxes and cassette players. More YouTubers that created do-it-yourself “how to fix cassette player” tutorials helped in the cassette revival movement. By 2018, cassette sales in the U.S. reached 219,000, trending upwards from 174,000 the year before, says GloriousNoise.com. Keep in mind the aforementioned cassette numbers are on newly released albums and singles and re-releases.
In 2018, local record shops and swap meet dealers noticed a surge in used 80s cassette sales. By then, Amazon dealers were importing new boomboxes and cassette players by the boatloads.
“A lot of that surge was also because of Netflix’s Cobra Kai, the post millennial’s version of our Karate Kid,” explained Johnny P. from Chula Vista. “Teens and young adults love that ’80s music, especially lately because they’re totally relating with Daniel Larusso’s and Johnny Lawrence’s kids in the show, who kick ass and take names to ’80s rock music.”
Johnny and his buddy sold over a hundred used ’80s rock tapes on eBay, Etsy, Facebook Marketplace, and Kobey’s Swap Meet since the pandemic started. “All that music on Cobra Kai and the old Karate Kid movies sells fast — including Mötley Crüe, Speedwagon, Poison, Bananarama, Journey, and Whitesnake.”
Luis Enrique Acosta Jimenez from La Rola records in Tijuana noticed the increase in used cassette sales in 2020. Customers ask him for Ratt’s Invasion of Your Privacy and Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry albums, both ’80s classics containing songs featured in the Cobra Kai series. “Those 80s cassettes sell very fast here too; I regularly sell them for about 100 pesos, $5.”
“Our tapes sell quickly,” Johnny continued, “my customers say because parents and kids rock out to it together, and they work out and train to it.”
On Amazon, cassette-playing boomboxes start at $29.95.