• Market Crumbs

The 1970s Called, They Want Their Cassettes Back

Imagine if someone told you twenty years ago that vinyl records and cassettes would still be popular formats for listening to music in 2019, let alone still around at all. You'd have called them crazy.

Next Wednesday will mark 18 years since Steve Jobs first introduced the iPod, pitching it as "1,000 songs in your pocket." 18 months later Apple introduced the iTunes Store, which would go on to become the world's largest music vendor. The way people listened to music forever changed.

However, the last few years has seen a resurgence of two very unlikely music formats - vinyl and cassettes. There's a variety of reasons why they've seen a resurgence. The most obvious revolves around the argument that vinyl sounds better than digital music. Others point to the thrill of hunting for records, vinyl and cassettes are tangible objects and people are drawn to the tight-knit communities around collecting music.

Revenue from vinyl sales in the U.S. last year grew 8% to hit the highest level since 1988. This year, vinyl is on pace to outsell CDs for the first time since 1986. Cassettes, which are prone to getting tangled and needing a rewind, have seen their sales spike the last few years as well. From 2016 to 2018, annual cassette sales grew by 74%, 35% and 23%.

There are even shortages affecting both the vinyl and cassette supply chains. For vinyl, there aren't enough pressing plants to keep up with demand. Ben Blackwell, co-founder of Jack White's Third Man Records said "There’s more demand than supply, and the supply is pressing plant capacity." For cassettes, the only company that refines high-grade gamma ferric oxide, which is used in the magnetic strips of tape that store audio on cassettes, is undergoing renovations. The closure of the factory has thrown a wrench in the production process, causing the National Audio Company (NAC), the largest audio cassette tape manufacturer in the U.S., to tell customers it will fall behind on filling orders.

The revival of these old formats has brought renewed interest to local record stores and even led to the creation of Record Store Day. Started in 2008, the annual event which is celebrated internationally, saw record sales of vinyl in the U.S. during this year's event. Vinyl and cassette sales will most certainly never exceed digital music sales, but its cool to see them still taking a dent out of the $9.8 billion per year industry.

Leftover Crumbs

  • The hits keep on coming. Following its botched IPO, Softbank is reportedly in discussions to take control of The We Company via a financing package ahead of an imminent cash crunch. The deal, if successful would further remove co-founder and former CEO Adam Neumann from the company. Separately, the company announced it discovered elevated levels of formaldehyde, which has been associated with various forms of cancer, at some of its offices. The company closed about 2,300 phone booths while it conducts more testing. Finally, Neumann was recently removed from Forbes' billionaires list, having his net worth downgraded to $600 million from $4.1 billion earlier this year. Surely not many will feel bad for him still walking away with that much money.

  • At this rate, they may need more negotiators. For the first time since 1984, thousands of Mack Truck employees walked out of plants in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Florida on Sunday. 3,500 United Automobile Workers union members walked out and began picketing as they wore red shirts and held signs. Similar to the UAW strike that has crippled GM, the Mack Truck employees want to discuss issues such as wages, job security and pension and health benefits. The president of the local representing Pennsylvania workers told reporters "I've been here for 42 years at Mack Trucks, love working at Mack Trucks. But we need to have our job security."

  • Facebook is on the receiving end this time. TikTok, the latest video sharing app to gain popularity, is poaching Facebook employees. The Chinese-based company recently purchased office space in Mountain View, California that was previously occupied by Facebook's very own WhatsApp. Now just miles from Facebook's headquarters, the company has poached more than two dozen Facebook employees since 2018, sometimes offering salaries up to 20% higher. It's not just Facebook, though, as they've also poached employees from Snap, Hulu, YouTube, Apple and Amazon. Despite its rapidly-increasing popularity, critics of the app worry the data that is being collected could be handed over to the Chinese government.

  • Maybe they should just forget about it. Following news they're having a tough time selling their electric motorcycle to younger people, Harley-Davidson is halting production and deliveries after discovering a problem with the bike's electric mechanism. Harley-Davidson didn’t provide details other than saying "We recently discovered a non-standard condition during a final quality check; stopped production and deliveries; and began additional testing and analysis, which is progressing well."

  • They're doing more for mankind than most economists. Three economists shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in economics for "their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty." The husband-wife duo from MIT and an economist from Harvard University developed new approaches to find the best way to fight poverty - for example, by dividing the issue into smaller, more manageable questions. As a result of their work, more than five million Indian children have benefited from remedial tutoring in schools. Esther Duflo is the youngest person and only the second woman to win the prize in its 50-year history.