slotMusic: It’s just albums on microSD cards

slotmusic_logo.jpg

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.

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17 Responses to slotMusic: It’s just albums on microSD cards

  1. marmorek says:

    If the cards are one gig each, why can’t they have lossless audio?

  2. Hellblazer says:

    @Monopole (#4) — My thoughts exactly. Also, if you can easily transfer the files off the card, you’ll essentially be paying $7-$10 for an album of music =and= a 1GB microSD card that you can use for whatever you like. Win-win.

  3. Anonyman says:

    #13,
    While it’s nice to be an idealist, I’m guessing they chose mp3 for compatibility with existing devices.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I know that market wise, this shouldn’t succeed, but I’ll be darned if this isn’t exactly what I want to buy. I have a Sandisk with RockBox installed and a micro sd slot. My phone has micro sd, my laptop has sd, even my camera has sd storage. I could listen in three different ways before ever offloading or ripping. If they pack on extras like high quality album art and music videos like you see on enhanced cds’s this would really be worth buying.

  5. Rob Beschizza says:

    Slot music is like so obviously what they should have been doing for years already

    It’s like the missing medium, that should have dominated from 1999-ish to the present day. We should be writing about how iTunes has “killed the flash album.”

  6. Helena Handbasket says:

    This reminds me of the mini-disc players? remember those? those littles squares, like the disc that vanessa williams/ah-nawld were protecting in The Eraser (lol)? Remember how people thought that would be The Next Big Thing (like Beta, and laser-disc)? I feel like this is one of those things.

    Though I agree with N8MAN, if they did this for movies, I think people would be all about it – way easier to store than DVDs, and they’d last a little longer, i think – just don’t let little kids have ‘em.

  7. Category says:

    This news is mildly upsetting for me, if only for purely selfish reasons – I’ve been prepping my music album for launch, and MicroSD was going to be one format I was going to sell on (mostly for a gimmick to get more press, to be honest), but now I will appear to be an idea-thief!

    Damn you, SanDisk, invading my thought waves!

  8. Drew Blood says:

    Seems like this idea has been done in all kinds of gimmicky, DRM-laden and overpriced ways in the past. It’s nice to see it done right. It’s just a shame it’s too late to do much good. As an aside, a 320kb album should only take around 100MB or so. That leaves a lot of room for extras!

  9. monopole says:

    Actually, if I can transfer music or movies off of the slot music card, this is great. It resolves the problem of adding more music while traveling. Normally you need a big laptop w/ a DVD drive to rip CDs and DVDs to a format your netbook/PDA/MP3 player can play. W/ slot music all you need at worst is a USB reader.

  10. n8man says:

    Any chance this would be expanded to movies (like the ghostbusters flash drive). Those would sell like hotcakes.

  11. strider_mt2k says:

    It seems to me like an easy way to mark up existing small cards.

  12. Not a Doktor says:

    this would be great at airports

    I could see myself buying one on a whim if it’s 10bux. I’m worried though that music will just be run-of-the-mill top 40 (but that would be cool getting something like AC/DC anthology on a 16gig card).

  13. Anonymous says:

    Put movies on these and the masses will come. Music is too easy and cheap if not free. I’d gladly shell out $ to be able to buy a movie to put straight on my player without all the converting/pc hassle I usually just avoid. Why has no one done that yet?! I head toshiba is planning something similar in the new year, but idk.

  14. Camillo Miller says:

    Well Joel, you said it: except iPod.

    This is clearly a move against iTunes. Period. I can’t find any other sense to this thing except that. It’s useless and so cassette-y. C’mon… We ditched the CD to buy music on this cyber LSD stamps?

  15. David Bruce Murray says:

    #11 – You took the words out of my mouth. I don’t see this working so well for music, because music can be quickly downloaded.

    Flash drives make a great deal of sense for movies, though, because buying movies over the internet can be time consuming. Most internet movie sites require you to download some special DRM player, etc. People would gladly pay $20 for a new release movie on a USB thumb drive. Ideally, consumers would be able to copy purchased movies to their hard drives for archival and/or burn them to DVDs for watching on systems that don’t offer a USB (or some other flash input) connection.

  16. snej says:

    @Rob(#1): “so obviously what they should have been doing for years already … should have dominated from 1999-ish to the present day.”

    Except back in 1999, flash memory was incredibly expensive. I remember buying a 32MB CF card for my first digital camera that year, and paying about $50 for it. That’s also the capacity of the very first MP3 players, that also came out about then. You can’t even fit a whole album in 32MB at any decent bitrate; I think you’d need to go down to 64kbps, which is tinny AM-radio quality.

    Today, using a 1GB flash card for this seems like overkill. You could put the uncompressed Red Book audio on there and only fill it about halfway. More realistically, go for 192kbps MP3 (which blind A/B tests show audiophiles can’t tell apart from uncompressed) and you can easily fit an album onto a 256MB card.

    And then, why use flash for delivering read-only content? ROM is much, much cheaper. They could drive the price of the hardware down to practically nothing that way.

    I still don’t see this being successful. The up-front costs are huge because it’s physical inventory, and the market for this seems to be the people who are too technophobic to know how to download, but those people are the last ones who’ll want to buy their music on a weird futuristic chip the size of a Chiclet.

  17. mst3kzz says:

    Sounds like Disney Mix Clips for adults to me (not to mention a step backwards).

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