Home taping is killing music? Cassette sales see ninth year of consecutive growth

Sales of audio cassettes rose for the ninth consecutive year in 2021, according to BPI data for the UK market.

While the cassette market accounts for just a fraction of the overall music consumption sector, the final data for the year shows that 185,000 tapes were purchased in the UK in the past 12 months – up by around a fifth (20%) on the previous year.

This is highest volume since 2003, when 243,000 tapes were sold and Now That’s What I Call Music 54 was the year’s biggest seller on the format.

Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour, Dave’s We’re All Alone In This Together and Coldplay’s Music of the Spheres were among the top selling albums on cassette in 2021, as was Queen’s Greatest Hits album.

Despite supply challenges, it was also a bumper year for vinyl sales, which rose by 11% in the UK, to well over 5 million (5.3m) copies purchased – representing a 14th year of consecutive growth.

Vinyl accounted for close to a quarter of 2021 album purchases, with volumes at their highest level since 1990, when Phil Collins’ But Seriously was the biggest selling LP.

More than 100 album titles sold over 5,000 copies on vinyl LP in 2021 (a great many selling over 2,000 copies in week of release), while more than 900 titles sold over 1,000 copies on LP. The title with the biggest first-week sales was ABBA’s Voyage (29,891) – the fastest seller on vinyl this century to date.

At the same time, however, CD sales continued to show a decline in sales, dropping by 11% last year. That said, CDs still account for the majority of physical album purchases.

Overall, streaming now accounts for 83% of UK music consumption, comprising over 147 billion individual audio streams, up 5.7% on 2020 – and representing an equivalent of 132 million streamed albums (up 5.7%).

In 2021 nearly 2,000 artists (1,918) were streamed over 10 million times in the UK (excluding global streams, which tend to be x4 greater). This compares with 1,798 in 2020 and 1,537 in 2019.

“Success today is gauged in the multi-millions, sometimes billions of streams, which generate micropayments that build over time, in line with relative popularity and demand from fans,” commented Geoff Taylor, CEO BPI, BRIT Awards & Mercury Prize.

“This year’s growth shows there is a huge appetite for music and we believe that by working together we can increase the value of the whole music market, so that streaming can support even more artists in the future.”

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