61 Comments

Summary:

SanDisk and four record labels have launched SlotMusic memory cards as an option to digital downloads and CDs. Good luck, guys — you’re gonna need it.

Updated: SanDisk, a flash memory chip maker that has been fighting off competitor Samsung’s bid to acquire the company, has launched SlotMusic MicroSD memory cards that will carry full-length music albums just like a music CD or a vinyl. The albums are going be placed next to CDs in popular stores like Wal-Mart. Four major record labels have joined SanDisk on this adventure, which is going to end badly. Here are my reasons:

  1. CD sales according to Recording Industry of America dropped from 942 million CDs in 2000 to 511 million in 2007. It is a good sign that people don’t much care about the “physical media” very much these days.
  2. iTunes has sold over 5 billion songs, indicating people like to download music when they indeed want to pay/buy music.
  3. SlotMusic will have 29 albums on day one — not enough for even the most curious to pick one up. I will also remind people of Mini Discs, which tried to fight it out with the CD but didn’t get anywhere.
  4. They are going to target phones with MicroSD card slots. That is a good approach, though I’m not sure people will actually listen to full albums on their mobile phones. So not sure if this is the right format.
  5. Lastly, I think the cost structure of these devices is pretty strange. Depending on what the price is — between $7 and $10, according to The New York Times — I wonder how much money is left for SanDisk after paying off the music industry Shylocks. On top of that SanDisk will offer an adapter to plug these cards into USB slots of computers, and even that is going to cost money. Of course, if it is cheaper than blank 1 GB MicroSD cards it might be worth just buying and erasing the music. (That would mean that the music is totally worthless.)

I admire SanDisk for trying hard to add value to its commodity Flash memory cards. Remember, they had once promoted U3, an apps-on-the-go offering, ended up owning it and then shut it down. Similarly, they promoted TakeTV (I loved it), a USB PC-to-TV video device and had to shut it down because there weren’t many buyers. Why do I feel that SlotMusic is going down that route?

Update: The New York Times writer Saul Hansell thinks that some of us tech writers live in an echo chamber and are quick to judge. He thinks I am too hasty to write the obit of SlotMusic and offers a spirited defense. I am not sure how he can say that three times as many people buy CDs as music from online sources. The CD sales (as pointed above) have nearly halved. Come on if that isn’t a sign then what is. There are other reasons – one of them coming from a commentator on his site.

Ever try to insert a microSD card into BackBerry Curve? It involves removing the battery, sliding around a flimsy metallic frame, etc. You call that convenient? Forget about what the tech elite think. Think about how usable this is relative to what is available. This is Sandisk’s foleo moment. They are blinded by their desire to sell more flash memory.

No this wasn’t tech elite writing the obit – but someone who has been around the block and knows what people are going to put up with or not.

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  1. There is an entire generation that downloads music for free. The quality of an mp3 is worse than a CD and the only advantage would be to sell it as a new higher quality format, such as HD for audio, not necessarily the physical size of the memory card. There is nothing ground breaking here.

  2. Dear Mr. Malik,

    I would consider the inclusion of the fact they the format is mp3 at 320kbs. One of the intense drawbacks for some is the lack of sonic depth compared to the redbook pcm format on a compact disc, itself sonically suspect in the first place, even after 29 years. A cd is only 700MB and could easily fit a lossless format as well as the mp3 data on a MicroSD. I’m sure the metadata will also be either missing, wrong or incomplete, another opportunity lost. And, yes I do believe that most people will wake up one day an HEAR what is missing from their music when they have older ears and better speakers. No I’m not an audiophile snob, just someone that has had to re-rip his cd collection a few times after realizing the audio problems encountered. For the record, I use a aac vbr 256-320bit copy as well as keep a lossless or original cd copy.

    Thanks,

    Be Bop
    NYC

  3. macshill (chris mccaw) Monday, September 22, 2008

    As us “kids” say: “Epic fail.”

  4. As it is just offering an alternative to the physical CD isn’t enough. Adding an adapter so that the SlotMusic memory cards can plug into a USB port is good – jack it into your computer/laptop/hi-fi/car stereo. This goes a long way to making the music more accessible. Players aren’t completely interconnected and most of the time you end up putting digital music on physical storage so you can share it across players.
    I can see them putting D/A decoders and mini-headphone jacks on them – you buy the music, it comes with a built-in player.

  5. Web-Face.org – IT news and trends » Blog Archive » slotMusic™ – new music format Monday, September 22, 2008

    [...] to CD albums in retail stores like Wal-Mart and Best Buy. This effort to boost physical media sales can go bad watching the latest years efforts to struggle with online music [...]

  6. Simple cards with Music will definitely not make it. Nevertheless, companies like mPortico (www.mPortico.com) which are using the microSD platform as a distribution channel for their App Stores will be successful in reaching end users directly on their phone, and offering them a unique user experience to enjoy mobile entertainment, and try-and-buy more content.

  7. Reason #6: usually the memory card in the phone (SD or other) already contains data that the user cannot give up – applications, contacts, other types of data.

  8. U3 is not dead… well, almost. They are working (with microsoft) towards a new standard… We have some news on that –

    http://www.u3-info.com/

    Ron

  9. Making it with a built in player is a cool idea. I’ve seen this with audio books (with even headphones included) being sold at airports which makes sense I suppose. With music it still seems to be a long-shot since people generally have large pre-existing connections. Maybe if they put them in vending machines at airports/stations and sold them at a good price the novelty would attract people.

  10. Music On microSD: I Can’t Believe The Labels Fell For This Monday, September 22, 2008

    [...] one of these while they last, because they’ll be collectors items by this time next year. The future is streaming and downloads, not physical media. [...]

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