Pre-recorded tapes, which made music affordable for students and the less well off, are gradually being phased out by the recording industry, which hopes that consumers will switch to the latest generation of digital technology.
The amount of music available on cassette, whether old classics or new releases, has dwindled steadily. According to data from the British Phonographic Institute, only 19 per cent of new albums are now released on tape, compared to 65 per cent in 1989.
Record shops, where cassettes are squeezed into ever smaller corners, say that while consumers still want to buy tapes, many recordings are not produced any more in the cheap format.
The new version is a small disc, about half the size of a CD, on which music of digital quality can be recorded as well as played. Sony's version is called the MiniDisc, while Philips has produced the digital compact cassette. The companies also own two of the world's largest recording labels.
So far, the technology has been slow to take off in this country. As with compact discs, consumers need to buy new stereo equipment in order to use it.
The hardware being launched by electronics manufacturers ranges in price from pounds 199.99 to pounds 699.99.
Sony, which is to spend pounds 5m on promoting the new systems in Britain in the next few months, believes that its MiniDiscs could make traditional tapes obsolete. The company points out that in Japan, 60 per cent of all hi-fi systems use MiniDiscs instead of cassettes.
Record shops say that popular titles such as the Beatles' White Album and Vivaldi's Four Seasons are no longer available on tape. Gillian Rodney, duty manager of Tower Records in central London, said yesterday that customers often requested recordings that were no longer made. "As a policy, we try to stock everything, but it appears that record companies are not producing cassettes like they used to."Reuse content