Where Do People Still Use Cassette Tapes?

The answer: in prisons, where CDs are routinely banned because they can be shattered and the shards refined into shivs.

MP3 players are unavailable in most prisons, as are, one imagines, turntables. California-based entrepreneur Bob Paris got the idea five years ago to sell cassettes by mail to the 2.3 million people locked up in federal, state, or local prisons across America. Now he finds himself with a thriving analog business in a digital music industry beset by piracy and plummeting sales. See this Reuters article for more details, including Paris’s best selling albums.

Recent years have seen the resurgence of vinyl record sales (outside of prisons, of course), and even punch cards seem to have been saved from the dustbin of history. The telegraph lasted until 2006 before the medium finally died, but its clipped vernacular lives on in text messaging.

Are there other examples of media that should have gone extinct but found a nice niche in which to survive?

(HT: BoingBoing Gadgets)


The telegram didn't finally die. Western Union stopped its service, but telegrams can still be sent in the US and in other countries. It's a small "novelty" market (if something old can be a novelty).


In response to Chris, RE: mini-discs, I concur, though I'd like to add that they're also popular with "bootleggers" and people who record live music for trading purposes.
I own a mini-disc recorder myself, and as an ethnomusicologist, I find it incredibly useful in the field, both for documenting musical performances as well as interviews. It's a great format that understandably never caught on, but also understandably found a niche because of the unique characteristics of the media (compact size, high quality, etc.)


To all those out there who want to listen to an iPod in the car, def don't go with the FM transmitter (they are horrible) but check out this link, enter the year, model and you should find an excellent solution!


neil wilson

Audio books still sell a lot of tapes. It is easy to turn it off, swich players and you will start exactly where you left off.

I find it amazing that books on tape are cheaper than books on CD even though it is significantly cheaper to produce the CD


Books on tape?

HMMMM. I'm pretty much interested in all things geeky (especially economic geek stuff) and an eco grad...


Books on tape. That's a bit too dorky, even for me. Hardly a reason why I'd trade in my 6 stacker or MP3 player for a cassette player.

Euuugh. Books on tape. Euuugh.

I'm going to go for a walk to wash off the dork vibe that has surrounded me.



In 2003, I tore out my old tape player from my car to install a fancy CD player, only to find myself totally immersed in iPod culture a year later, with my entire 60 gigs filled to the brim with all the stuff I now love. It's great and all, but now when I'm in my car, I wish I had that old tape player, so I could use an iPod cassette adapter (they're so much simpler than those annoying fm transmitters). But I'm stuck listening to my old CDs.


I'm with #18. Fax machines should die. They have horrible quality issues and you just end up getting a bunch of spam that uses YOUR ink and paper. It's easy enough (and generally quicker) to scan and email a document, and if I don't trust you enough to open an attachment you have no business faxing me anyway.


Yes, Salon magazine is a representative of a dying breed, the web publication which wants you to pay money to read it, or else navigate your way thru a bug-filled sequence of ad pages that do not get you to the article, but just freeze your system in some kind of loop. Soon may it die. And please, please, please, NY Times, DO NOT LINK US TO ANY MORE OF ITS ELUSIVE ARTICLES. Thanks.


@12 - I already prefer not to use fluorescent bulbs in my personal living quarters. I prefer the warmth of incandescent bulbs, and I have several friends who feel the same way. We're hardly hipsters.

On the subject of cassette tapes - I drive a 1996 Jeep Cherokee right now that only has a cassette deck. This was extremely depressing to me, then I got one of those tape adapters that were designed to let you plug your cd player in in the car. Now I plug my ipod in and am good to go. Forget books on tape, I can listen to whatever music I want.


I thought carbon paper was a medium that was dead, but buy anything in China at a grocery store, and go to the front counter for a receipt, and the clerk there will take forever writing out the receipt by hand and using good old carbon paper to copy in triplicate your purchase, and will store it somewhere with all the other millions of copies of receipts in some vault somewhere where archeologists in the future will someday find a trove of important cultural relics from the ancient Hu Dynasty, giving a glimpse into the complex purchasing habits of pre-capitalist Chinese consumers before they dominated and later destroyed the world.


VCR's which use VHS. How else could I tape Oprah, which comes to me via rabbit ears (antenna)? I'm sure there are others in my situation.


Well in the UK, the BPI (aka the major music industry), the government and ISPs have ironed out an agreement based on three strikes of file sharing and you are disconnected.

I have written an article on my blog which examines whether this bandaid is actually hitting the root cause of a lot of piracy.

The blog also has a video interview with Pim Betist the founder of www.sellaband.com

Be good to get your thoughts…




I think the bigger problem with MP3 players is getting the actual music. Not sure they'll let you plug into iTunes while you're on lockdown.


Interesting--he started stockpiling cassette versions of albums a few years ago. But that certainly limits his catalog.

I wonder--would he run afoul of piracy issues if he purchased new CDs, copied them onto tapes, and then destroyed the CDs? Obviously, the costs would increase, both because CDs generally cost a lot and because the transfer process would be a time-consuming pain in the butt. But it would expand his offerings.

A simple analogue in another industry is re-binding companies like PermaBound, which buy paperback books from publishers, cut the covers off, and then re-bind them with very durable library bindings.


To erika #19: why not get a cassette adapter for your MP3 player? That's how I listen to my iPod in the car (a 2000 Jeep, which has a cassette player)? Don't get the FM transmitter -- if you live anywhere near a city, it's too much of a pain, because you have to keep changing frequencies to get away from nearby radio stations. The cassette adapter is much better!



MTV music videos!

Mike B

All sorts of non-solid state devices (Ignitrons, vacuum tubes, etc) are used in high energy applications (such as transmitters) where solid state devices would melt or fail to function due to the high heat or EM radiation.

Some years ago I was invited to MTV's Latin America 10th anniversary concert and the invitations were 5¼-inch disks. I now these are useless nowadays, but I still think it was a nice detail.


@11 Right on.

I have a driving job for which I must be on the road at least 6 hours a day.

My 2000 Ford has no other options and I'm not ready to get an FM transmitter for my MP3 player.

My local library has an almost inexhaustible supply of audiobooks via inter-library loan.

Cassette tapes--not just for felons anymore.


Despite all the technology associated with CDs and MP3s, I've heard that the best way to get quality recordings is the reel-to-reel format.