The Last Cassette Tape Factory In the U.S. Is Doing Better Than Ever

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The National Audio Company in Springfield, Mo. / Bloomberg Business

Have you heard? Technology is moving forward so fast we can barely keep up with it. There's smart new stuff all the time, and newer always means better, right? Today I received an email press release whose subject line read "This Companionable Robot is Equipped With Telepresence Arms." I don't know what that means and I didn't bother to click to find out, but that's beside the point. Whether it's a groundbreaking new stylus for your iPad (I refuse to call it a pencil) or fascinating breakthroughs in medical technology, the sense that tech is speeding up exponentially is hard to shake.

Except. Except that some people really like old technology. Vinyl album sales have grown by 260 percent since 2009 in the U.S., and the resurgence show no signs of slowing; last year, Americans bought some 9.2 million records, up from 6.1 million in 2013. The next generation of typewriter enthusiasts (without whom these very stable typewriter repair shops would be dying) is well-documented. Nostalgia is a powerful drug, and its role in the marketplace is not to be dismissed.

So where do cassette tapes figure into all of this? If you're an aesthete, they're maybe less immediately sexy than vinyl, but they have their strong points: They're durable as hell, as Jennifer Maerz pointed out in this sweet piece about rediscovering her high school boyfriends' gifted mixtapes via a guy she'd sold her car to a decade ago. American Public Radio's Marketplace pointed to the tangibility factor in this piece on labels like Burger Records issuing new music on tapes, as well as gimmicky one-offs from Metallica, movie tie-ins like the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack, and the so-quirky-it-hurts Cassette Store Day.

Long story short, people are still buying 'em -- which means someone's gotta make 'em. Bloomberg Business paid a visit to one of those few remaining someones, by way of touring the National Audio Company in Springfield, Missouri. NAC reports that sales are up 20 percent from last year -- when they sold more than 10 million tapes. Check out their tour below.


Business lesson (as this literature major sees it): Even when it seems like everybody in the world has moved on to the next new kind of technology, there are always going to be people who quietly love the old ways. And there may be a whole different, quiet kind of treasure involved for the guy who sticks around to give the people what they want.

Now if only some enterprising soul would revive the Walkman.