It is the end of the road for music cassettes. A minuscule market still exists in smaller towns but that too is disappearing fast.
When the audio cassette hit the Indian market in the 1970s, it was hailed as a technological breakthrough, the easiest and hippest way to listen to music. In an age when more and more music is acquired online, legally and illegally, the cassette is on its last leg. It won’t be long before no music is recorded on them.
The sales of cassettes started falling in the mid-90s when compact discs or CDs made an appearance in the market place. The first lots were expensive and so cassettes were safe. But mass production brought CD prices crashing down, and thus put a question mark on the future of the cassette. In sync with the market trend, music companies such as Saregama and T-Series started to cut their output of cassettes.
“Cassettes have been out of the market for Saregama for the last three years... That is about the time when the market for cassettes virtually died. The numbers made it commercially unviable for us to stay in the market with that format,” says Saregama India Business Head (music) Adarsh Gupta. At present, cassettes are a small segment for the company and are restricted to regional and devotional music in Tier 2 and 3 cities where people still own cassette players.
Music label T-Series, which led the cassette revolution in the 1980s, too has abandoned the cassette. “While launching the music of a new release such as Ready, we might put out 2,000 or 3,000 audio cassettes in the market as a promotional offer for a select audience. However, this segment is small and does not find any repeat order,” says the company’s vice-president, Jatin Gill.
Perhaps the greatest impetus to the popularity of audio cassettes in the 1980s was the introduction of portable players such as Sony’s Walkman. “Sony does sell cassette radios in India and we are witnessing constant sales for the past few years. The market consists mostly of cassette radio lovers who have been listening to this format since the time these gadgets were popular,” says Sony India General Manager (marketing) Tadato Kimura.
Cassettes remained popular for specific applications such as car audio well into the 1990s. But the gradual shift in consumer preferences has led to the disappearance of cassettes within this segment too, as seen in the case of Maruti Suzuki, India’s largest car maker, which does not offer cassette players anymore in its cars. “Customers today are seeking cars which are loaded with rich features and accessories that support gizmos like CDs, MP3 players, USB port AUX-in and more. We do not get any request for cassette players even in smaller cities,” says a company spokesperson.
But isn’t the long-playing record or LP making a comeback? “LP is a global phenomenon with superior listening pleasure and sound quality to a cassette. The cassette business is a complete whitewash. I doubt if the cassette will make a comeback,” says Gupta. Gill agrees: “Even if manufacturing costs are lowered and sound quality improved, the chances of the cassette making a comeback are slim.”
According to FICCI-KPMG Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report 2011, digital music earned Rs 420 crore last year, 24 per cent more than the sales of physical products at Rs 320 crore. “The fundamental need to consume audio has not changed... it is only the way it is being consumed that is changing. Consumers today demand more features in a single player,” says Philips India Director (lifestyle entertainment) Gunjan Srivastava. “They prefer versatile audio systems that support multiple sources and formats.” With music stores such as Landmark and Music World refusing to sell any cassettes, the only places to get hold of some are small haunts on highways.