This article is from the 8-track Tapes FAQ, by Malcolm Riviera firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
Consumer demand for the 8-track-tape format was strongest from 1970-74.
The format began dramatically losing market share after 1975. IMHO, the
reasons the format fell into disfavor are:
Audio industry improvements in the cassette format. During cassette's
first few years, sound quality was mediocre, marred by tape drop-outs, wow
and flutter, modulation noise, hissing, tape jamming, distortion, and poor
frequency range. But in the early 1970s, cassettes were improved so that
(potentially at least) their fidelity was equal to, or better than,
8-track... the major audio manufacturers put their R&D efforts into
The "high end" 8-track deck makers, Wollensak, Akai, Pioneer, and
Realistic, stopped developing improved 8-track units around 1974. In fact,
the short-lived Elcaset format received the R&D efforts that would have
gone into better 8-track decks.
Manufacturers adopted cheaper, flimsier, less reliable cartridge
mechanisms. Tape jamming and mechanical problems were a major "kiss of
death" to consumer acceptance of 8-track....and these problems were
entirely avoidable if the tape makers had maintained consistent design
standards and quality control.
Relatively few decks, and relatively few 8-track-tapes, incorporated
Dolby noise reduction. The Dolby-B system was widely adopted for cassettes
during the late '70s, while very few 8-track decks incorporated Dolby
In short: the same industry that improved cassette tapes from a mediocre
dictating-machine medium to a hi-fi music format, failed to offer and
promote improvements for the 8-track format. Now they're trying to get
rid of cassettes in favor of CDs...and then get rid of CDs in favor of
HDCDs or the Smart Card.