Artists including Arctic Monkeys, Florence + The Machine and Harry Styles lifted UK cassette sales to their highest level in nearly two decades last year, according to new analysis from the BPI, the representative voice for the UK’s world-leading record labels and music companies.
Based on Official Charts Company data, sales of the retro format grew for a tenth consecutive year in 2022, reaching annual totals not seen since 2003, when the year’s two most popular titles were Now That’s What I Call Music compilations and Daniel O’Donnell had the top artist album.
The revival of the audio cassette market is highlighted, among many other fascinating trends and stats, in All About The Music 2023 – the 44th edition of the BPI Yearbook, which is out now1.
While sales of cassettes remain quite a bit lower than vinyl, having grown by 5.2% year-on-year to 195,000 units in 2022, the format is playing a significant role in the sales mix of some brand new album releases. On 10 occasions last year, the format accounted for over 10% of the chart sales of the No.1 album on the weekly Official Albums Chart. Some of these chart-topping albums sold more copies on cassette than on vinyl when they debuted at No.1, including Florence + The Machine’s Dance Fever and 5SOS5 by 5 Seconds of Summer. More than a fifth of each album’s first-week chart sales were claimed by cassette. For some new albums, a cassette version went on sale when a vinyl release was not available, as was the case with Central Cee’s 23, Digga D’s Noughty By Nature and Blackpink’s Born Pink, which all reached No.1 last year.
OFFICIAL CASSETTE ARTIST ALBUMS CHART 2022 – © Official Charts Company
Pos. Artist & Title
01. Arctic Monkeys – The Car
02. Harry Styles – Harry’s House
03. Florence + The Machine – Dance Fever
04. Muse – Will Of The People
05. Central Cee– 23
06. Robbie Williams – XXV
07. 5 Seconds of Summer – 5SOS5
08. Blackpink – Born Pink
09. The 1975 – Being Funny In A Foreign Language
10. Machine Gun Kelly – Mainstream Sellout
Sophie Jones, BPI Chief Strategy Officer and Interim CEO, said: “For many of us growing up, cassettes were a rite of passage as we listened to our favourite artists. So it’s heartening that this once much-loved format is back in vogue, even if still a tiny part of music consumption overall. Like vinyl, a number of contemporary artists are warmly embracing the cassette as another way to reach audiences and on occasions it has even helped them to achieve a No.1 album. While streaming is by far the leading format, the renewed popularity of cassettes and vinyl highlights the continuing importance of the physical market and the many ways fans have to consume music.”
Arctic Monkeys had the year’s biggest-selling cassette with The Car, finishing ahead of Harry Styles’ Harry’s House, which was the top album across all formats. The top five cassette sellers were completed by releases from Florence + The Machine (Dance Fever), Muse (Will Of The People) and Central Cee (23), while artists including Blackpink (Born Pink), Machine Gun Kelly (Mainstream Sellout), Robbie Williams (XXV) and The 1975 (Being Funny In A Foreign Language) also finished in the year’s Top 10. All but two of the Top 10 sellers sold more than 5,000 cassettes during the year, while there were 40 occasions in 2022 when an album sold over 1,000 cassettes over the course of a week. This compares to 34 titles doing the same the year before.
Every one of the Top 10 cassette sellers was released in 2022, as were the entire Top 20, which included releases by Avril Lavigne (Love Sux), Jamie T (The Theory Of Whatever), Knucks (Alpha Place) and Blossoms (Ribbon Around The Bomb). The top catalogue seller was Iron Maiden’s The Number Of The Beast, which was reissued on cassette in March last year to mark its 40th anniversary. Another popular catalogue title was the original soundtrack to the 2014 Marvel Studios film Guardians Of The Galaxy, which includes vintage tracks by 10cc, David Bowie and Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell. Sub-titled Awesome Mix Vol. 1, the album was one of the earliest titles to be released on cassette since the format’s revival and is one of the biggest sellers over the last ten years.
A decade of growth for cassettes marks a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for a format which between 1985 and 1992 led the UK albums market before being overtaken by CD. However, by 2012 its total annual sales had dropped below 4,000 units. Since then purchases have risen every year, but its revival picked up markedly in 2020 when it grew from just over 80,000 units the year before to nearly 160,000 units, almost doubling in size in a single year. It surpassed 185,000 units in 2021, while the 195,000 units it sold last year took it to a level not seen since before Apple launched its iTunes Music download store in the UK.
Drew Hill, MD Proper Music Group and VP Distribution at Utopia Music, said: “While cassettes comprise only a small percentage of the UK album market, the format’s continuous growth over the last decade speaks to the ongoing fan demand for a myriad of ways to listen, collect and value music. We reside in a golden era of choice, where music fans are looking to labels and artists to offer a broad spectrum of physical options to complement digital streaming.
1 The BPI annual yearbook All About The Music 2023 is free to its members but is available to purchase below.