Are cassette tapes worth anything? Are cassette tapes worth collecting? Those are not the same question, and the answer to both is changing. There was a time when very few cassette tapes were worth anything at all. But they are starting to become collectible.
When audio tapes were new, they were all about practicality. Vinyl records and CDs had major advantages over cassettes unless you were listening in your car, or needed a smaller form factor for any other reason.
- Very limited production tapes from famous artists can be very valuable, such as Prince’s The Versace Experience and Xero, the self titled debut from the predecessor of Linkin Park
- Common tapes of artists who still have cultural significance may be worth $3 to $4, but tend to sell better in groups
- When an artist is on tour or experiences a resurgence (such as Kate Bush in the summer of 2022), their tapes can increase in value significantly
- The interest in tapes today is primarily driven by nostalgia, so if people aren’t especially nostalgic for a particular tape, it’s not likely to be valuable
Tapes fell out of favor in the 1990s as car CD players got better and cheaper, and then both were eclipsed by digital. Today, the most practical form factor for music is digital. Your phone is about the size of a single audio cassette and gives you access to millions of songs, more than you can listen to in your lifetime, and without dealing with tape recorder malfunctions or the tape material wearing out. Speaking of which, transferring your old cassette tapes to digital to ease preservation is absolutely an option.
The comeback of old formats
Vinyl isn’t the only decades-old music format enjoying a comeback. Tapes are starting to come back too. This time it’s fueled by nostalgia more than anything else. Certainly more than practicality. The music doesn’t sound better on cassette, and there’s the risk of cassette tape deterioration, but it may sound more authentic.
If you have some tapes you need to get rid of quickly, you stand a better chance of doing that today than you did, say, in 2009. And if you are looking for a way to make extra money, you know your music, you can make some extra money dealing in vintage cassette tapes. It won’t make you rich, but if it sounds like more fun than mowing lawns, you can make a go of it. If collecting tapes seems like fun, you can probably make enough selling duplicates or tapes that are desirable but not your thing to pay for the tapes you do want, making your hobby self-funding.
Which cassette tapes are worth money?
Generally speaking, the most valuable cassette tape is a promotional tape from 1995 called The Versace Experience, by Prince. The tape was a promotion given to attendees of a fashion show in Paris in 1995.
This tape is worth around $4,000. Don’t get too excited, your copy of Purple Rain is worth closer to $4.
Be careful. This tape was re-released in 2019, and the modern re-release isn’t worth anywhere near the original.
Vying with Prince is a band you might not have heard of called Xero. This was an early tape from a band that later became famous under the name Linkin Park. This self-titled tape from 1997 is worth around $4,000.
When it comes to cassette tapes that are worth 3-4 figures, the general pattern is rare cassettes from popular bands, usually before they were famous. Think of when these bands were playing small clubs, not signed to a major label yet, and selling tapes they produced on a shoestring budget before and after the show.
It’s not just old music cassettes that are valuable. Modern tapes from indie bands with a following that were produced in very limited quantities can reach three or even four figures.
The right combination of popularity of the band and obscurity of the title is key to the value of cassette tapes. And condition. Don’t forget condition. The tape needs to not just be in good condition, but pristine to reach these heights.
Cultural significance or newsworthiness
Sometimes tapes that aren’t exactly rare can jump in value when an artist gains a burst of publicity. The value of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love cassette took off like a rocket after it was featured prominently in season 4 of Stranger Things. The week before Season 4 came out, it was selling for anywhere from $7 to $25. Within a month, it was hard to find one for $25. A more typical price was $50, and factory sealed examples were selling for over $100. The price is likely to settle down a bit over time but whether it ever falls back to pre May 2022 levels remains to be seen.
When an artist is in the news, interest in their cassettes can increase for a few weeks or months. Prices may not necessarily increase much, but their tapes get easier to sell at least. Examples of common Depeche Mode cassettes sold more briskly in the weeks after the death of bassist/keyboardist Andy Fletcher at the age of 60 on May 26, 2022. On a happier note, when a band that was active during cassette tapes’ heyday is on tour, interest in their old tapes tends to increase.
What is an ordinary cassette worth?
Chances are if the tape is from a major label and sold in a retail store, it’s not worth 3-4 figures. It’s not necessarily worth 3-4 dollars, even. The general rule with tapes that sold at mass market is that they are worth $2 to $4 a piece if they are worth anything at all.
There are obviously exceptions to this rule, but if the artist is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, their tape probably falls into that category. At least when we are talking pop music. Tapes from a pop artist who fell short of their genre’s Hall of Fame aren’t worth much. The plastic case the tape is in is probably worth more than the tape, because a dealer can use the case to upgrade another tape to make it more presentable.
If you are curious, check the eBay sold listings for any tape you are wondering about. You will probably notice a pattern. The more you know about music, the more things you will notice.
Pricing cassette tapes for garage and estate sales
Keep in mind if you are trying to sell tapes at a garage or estate sale, you’re probably not selling directly to a collector. You are probably selling to a dealer. This bothers some people because they feel like the person is profiting off them. The reality is they probably are making about the same amount off the tapes as you are. The bulk of their business is selling tapes for around $4. By the time they pay their selling fees, their taxes, and pay for shipping materials, that’s another dollar to 1.50.
So the dealer who buys your tapes isn’t getting rich off you.
If you want your tapes to move, I recommend pricing them at $0.50 to $1 at a garage sale, and no higher than $1.50 at an estate sale. Someone may offer you a discount for the entire lot. Keep in mind in some instances, the plastic case is worth more than the tape.
Are blank cassette tapes worth anything?
Blank, unused cassette tapes aren’t worth much, but they also aren’t worthless. Depending on the quality of tape, they can be worth a few dollars.
I have seen people sell used tapes successfully, using the keyword sold as blank. It is certainly possible to erase and reuse tapes.
Old mixtapes are probably best sold that way.
If you have old radio recordings, there may be some interest in those, depending on what it is. Don’t expect big bucks, but if the recording has the commercials and the DJ talking, that can be interesting to a certain audience, to hear the music in that context.
Are computer cassette tapes worth anything?
At one time, computer software was distributed on cassette tapes that looked exactly like music tapes. How much those are worth will vary, but generally speaking, I would expect computer cassettes to be worth more on average than music cassettes, since the audience is retro computer enthusiasts. I have several vintage computers in my basement, so I know a little about that. Computer software on cassette was much more common in Europe than in North America, but old software is rather collectible today.
Some of them came in cardboard boxes with a manual, and the tape itself had a plain looking label and just came in a clear case with no insert. Others sold in just the case with a colorful insert that doubled as the documentation.
Don’t expect to get rich, but if you have a stash of old computer cassettes, don’t expect to have too much trouble finding a buyer. Especially if the tapes are reasonably complete.
Can you make money selling cassette tapes?
You are probably not going to get rich selling cassette tapes. Your chances of finding one of those tapes that is worth $4,000 at a garage sale are comparable to your chances of winning the lottery. Your chances of doing that more than once are even less. I don’t think anyone has that kind of luck.
That said, do I think I could make $5,000 a year going out on Saturday looking for cassette tapes to flip on eBay? I think I know enough about music and live in a big enough city to stand a chance.
That said, it’s not an easy $5,000. It’ll work better for you if tapes aren’t the sole thing you are looking for.
I used to sell used books, and by extension, some music. Here are some tips for how I used to do that. A lot of that applies to music. But be sure to come back here to learn about selling cassette tapes in lots.
How to sell cassette tapes
Even though the cassette tape collection you came across probably isn’t going to make you rich, there is still a chance you can sell it. Your best bet usually is to group the cassette tapes together in lots that one person will likely want and sell them in groups of related tapes. A random mishmash of tapes is hard to sell, but a group of tapes from the same artist or genre is more likely to sell, both faster and for a decent price. Tapes that will only sell for $2 plus postage as a single album can sell for $4 plus postage in lots because it costs $3 to ship one tape but $9 to ship 10. The cost is the same to the buyer but it’s more convenient for the buyer, more convenient for you, and more profitable too.
Selling rare cassette tapes is hard because finding them is hard. Making money selling common cassette tapes helps keep the lights on in the meantime.
Selling by band
Ordinary, common tapes from enduring artists can sell for around $4 each in lots. For example, I saw a large lot of 34 Rolling Stones tapes sell for $135 plus shipping. The same week, I saw a lot of 9 U2 cassette tapes sell for $36 plus shipping.
For comparison, any single album from either of those lots sells for $2 plus shipping alone. Grouping them in lots is key to getting a better sale price.
Now that I’ve mentioned those two bands, you can probably imagine others this works well for. Spend some time searching Ebay sold listings to check out those hunches and confirm what works.
Selling by genre
Bundling by genre can help you move tapes successfully, but it tends to be less profitable. I’ve seen lots of Hip Hop, Rap, New Wave, and Heavy Metal tapes sell for $2-$3 per tape, sometimes more, for reasons that can vary. Some genres do better than others.
Heavy Metal lots tend to do pretty well, but frankly, if I had a bunch of those kinds of tapes, I’d probably wait until I had enough to sell the individual bands in lots.
Classical music can be hit and miss. Some classical tapes sell nicely, and some of it you can’t give away.
Selling by genre doesn’t necessarily make you more money, but it’s easier to ship 10 tapes to one person than 10 tapes to 10 different people.
What about random lots? Don’t bother. More often than not they don’t sell. When I do see one that sold, the person could have done better by grouping the tapes differently. Buyers will tolerate 1-2 junk tapes in a lot. They won’t buy a lot that’s half stuff they don’t want.
Are cassette tapes media mail?
You can send commercially recorded cassette tapes media mail, which is a reduced rate intended for books and music, among other things. There are a lot of rules about media mail, so I really recommend you read more about it here, but it can be an economical way to ship a large number of tapes for a very reasonable cost.
Blank tapes or home-recorded tapes are either ineligible or a judgment call. I don’t recommend taking the chance.
But media mail may not necessarily be the cheapest option. Depending on what USPS rates are in any given year, sometimes it’s cheaper to send 1-2 tapes first class than media mail. If you sell a lot, it’s worth checking rates.
Are cassette tapes worth collecting?
So let’s get back to one of the original questions. If cassette tapes aren’t worth a lot of money, they aren’t worth collecting, right?
Not necessarily. I tell my younger coworkers that they need a hobby that is not related to their day job. I work in the field of computer security, so by that, I mean something not related to computers. Collecting cassette tapes can be ideal because nostalgia is actually good for you.
The trouble is, a lot of hobbies, especially nostalgia driven hobbies, can be expensive. And they can take up a lot of space.
Cassette tapes are something nostalgic that you can collect that won’t take up crazy amounts of space on shelves, won’t cost a lot of money, and will provide you a bit of a challenge. In the 1990s, cassette tapes were everywhere. Today, they are probably cheaper than used tapes were in the late 90s, but you will have to look harder for them. Part of the fun with collecting is the hunt, and the hunt for cassette tapes will be challenging.
Home recorded tapes are fun to collect, if you enjoy old radio recordings. They’re worth taking a chance. Most won’t contain anything interesting. But if they don’t, you can sell them as blank as long as they work.
Much like VHS tapes, I think cassette tapes are an underrated hobby with a lot of upside potential.
Where to find cassette tapes
You can find cassette tapes the same places you would find books and other things of the same time period. I wouldn’t expect to find them at antique malls, because of their low value. They need to sell higher dollar items to pay the rent on their booth space. Flea markets are a better bet. Not all thrift stores take cassette tapes anymore. But some will. Keep an eye out at your favorite stores. You’ll get an idea for which ones do. The same goes for church rummage sales. But let’s talk about my two aces in the hole.
Estate sales are a great place to find all sorts of things, including tapes. At estate sales, look in the bedrooms, especially the closets, and the basement. And don’t expect tapes to be the featured items in any of the photos in the listing. Look for houses in older neighborhoods, houses built before 1990 are ideal, and look for other items a similar age to the cassettes you are interested in. If all the toys look like they are from the 1960s, don’t expect to see a lot of tapes. That was the vinyl era. But if you see a component stereo system with a dual cassette deck and you see G1 Transformers and Star Wars toys, that’s a good sign.
At a garage sale, if you don’t see any tapes and it’s not crazy busy, it doesn’t hurt to ask about tapes. How you phrase the question helps. That way you don’t waste their time and yours on MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. “Do you have any old rock and roll tapes you want to get rid of?” is a leading question that doesn’t give too much away.
Don’t forget Ebay
And if nothing else, keep an eye on Ebay. Start with a generic search like I just linked, then narrow it down to things you’re interested in. You’re paying someone else’s overhead when you do that, but you’re also saving yourself a lot of time.
Under perfect circumstances, a collector would probably rather find their hauls in the wild, but sometimes that isn’t practical.