Reel-to-reel tape had never been a convenient medium: Apart from the awkwardness of handling several hundred feet of closely-wound tape, the thing had to be threaded, re-wound onto its original spool before you could replay it.
For most people, tape was just too messy (and expensive) to bother with.
The big breakthrough came in 1963 with the development of the audio cassette in Holland by Philips – which proved to be the most significant development in the music world for many years.
It was a simple idea – two miniature spools holding enough narrow tape to give 30 minute’s recording on each side at the slow domestic speed of 1.7/8″ (of tape going past the recording and playback heads) per second. The tape was only 1/8″ wide instead of the usual domestic width of 1/4″, and it was secured at both ends to the spools to prevent it running off, and to do away with the need to thread the tape.
The whole thing was encased in a plastic case with runners and wheels to guide the tape.
Cassettes started to move into the marketplace, originally just manufactured by Philips, but soon by a host of other companies under licence from them.
The idea of pre-recorded music in a portable format caught on, and in 1966 Philips introduced the musicassette – pre-recorded tape versions of albums.
When the Japanese entered the cassette market in the 1970s they brought with them technological skill and marketing expertise which dramatically increased the potential sales of pre-recorded music cassettes.
The Sony Walkman helped push cassette sales above vinyl sales for the first time in 1983, and by the end of the 80s, most retail chains stopped carrying vinyl altogether as major labels began releasing albums on cassette (and later, CD) only.