How much would you pay for a 1GB microSD flash memory card? If you thought "just a hair over five bucks" your internal market price lookup table is well attuned.
But what would you pay if that 1GB TransFlash card also had an album on it? SanDisk — having announced a deal with major record labels to sell music on "slotMusic" flash memory cards — is hoping you'll pay something like $7 to $10 (according to prices sussed out by Saul Hansell, although no official prices have been announced).
There's no chance that slotMusic will become the dominant way for music to be delivered to customers. Digital downloads aren't the future of music — iTunes has proved they're the present. Worse, slotMusic cards will have just a single album apiece, necessitating swaps to change albums, something that's been antiquated in digital media players since the beginning.
But as an adjunct to CDs, slotMusic cards do have one advantage: they can be listened to instantly on most modern phones and media players (minus the iPod, which lacks a memory expansion slot). And if the price proves to be inexpensive, they're may have a short window in which buying a slotMusic card is cheaper than buying blank memory at retail. (At brick-and-mortar retail a 1GB microSD card goes for $10-15.)
Ignoring all that, though, it's clear that SanDisk and the supporting major labels did several things right. It wouldn't be fair to ignore them:
• The bitrate is excellent: 320kbps. (Or "up to" says the spare slotMusic info page.)
• The format is DRM-Free MP3 which will work on every computer or device.
• The rest of the space on the slotMusic cards will be used for album art, videos, and other related content.
There's little reason to love it; little reason to hate it. It's billed as a "new format" but is simply a way to sell flash memory — which is fine, but inconsequential, a momentary blip before every last device pulls data seamlessly from ubiquitous wireless internet.
Here's a question, though: might it have been better for SanDisk to work out some deal by which a bunch of music and other content was released on all their flash memory cards by default? It would have to be promotional material — customers wouldn't want to pay a huge premium for content when they are really just trying to buy a blank card — but advertising on empty cards seems a more likely revenue than trying to wholesale flash memory to record labels.