In the age of streaming music and digital downloads, there is not much room in the music industry for the bulky cassette tapes of a bygone era. Or is there?
In 2015, the National Audio Company (NAC) remains as the last audiocassette manufacturing company in existence, and it intends to keep its existence for a good long while. Judging from the fact that the Springfield, Missouri-based company sold millions of cassettes in 2014-the best year it ever had in its 46-year history, the future appears to be wide open to accommodate retro tapes and smartphones with music players together.
"You can characterize our operating model as stubbornness and stupidity," says Steve Stepp, president of NAC, in a video by Bloomberg Business. "We were too stubborn to quit. Now, we're making more audiocassettes than we've ever made. And that's something to say in 2015."
NAC began as a medium-sized blank tape supplier in 1969. When the music recording companies turned to CDs to distribute their products, NAC knew audiocassette music was in big trouble. However, since the company was at that time not in the music market, it was not affected by the shift to CDs. Thus, it began buying out its competitors and their equipment and restoring them to new condition in preparation for the time when the music market picks up audiocassettes once again. That time has come.
Today, NAC forged deals with major record labels, including Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, as well as indie artists and music groups. A huge chunk of its sales come from music cassettes, while the rest are blank tapes. In 2014, NAC produced more than 10 million audiocassettes and saw a significant 20 percent growth in annual sales as compared to 2013.
One of NAC's most successful products is the audiocassette for the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack, which sold 11,500 copies in 2014 and another 5,000 or more orders on the lineup for 2015, which is surprisingly good, considering that audiocassettes were supposed to be dead by now. NAC is also working on an audiocassette re-release of Hit The Lights, Metallica's first album.
"Probably the thing that has really enlarged our business at a faster phase than anything is the retro movement," Stepp says. "There's the nostalgia of holding the audiocassette in your hand."
At 67, Stepp says it is not older people who are driving the return of the cassette tape. A huge portion of NAC's customers comprise people under 35 who, as Stepp says, "has learned that life is not comprised of MP3s and earbuds." Unlike the cool, detached sounds that can be heard in digital music, analog gives off an intimate vibe that attracts many of NAC's clientele.
"There was a drive from the independent bands to get that warm analog sound again, and it just continued to grow and grow," Susie Brown, NAC production manager, says.
Kamaljith K.V. | Flickr