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.

  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.

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  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

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  3. As us “kids” say: “Epic fail.”

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  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.

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  5. [...] 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 [...]

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  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.

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  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.

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  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

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  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.

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  10. [...] 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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  11. [...] Malik (GigaOm): “Four major record labels have joined SanDisk on this adventure, that is going to end [...]

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  12. Where would you store your collection of music ?
    in a modded VHS case ? :)

    It’s gonna fail

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  13. If you’ve seen MicroSD cards in person, you know how tiny they are (and don’t feel all that solid to boot). I can’t think of a reason I’d want to have to deal with carrying around a bunch of tiny chips to listen to music versus built in flash…

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  14. [...] hunch is that my friend Om Malik is probably right — this thing seems to have fail written all over it (TechCrunch is similarly unimpressed). The company makes a big deal out of how much space there is [...]

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  15. [...] [via] Read More One Dead, One Dying: CD / Vinyl Format Made Into New MediaMicrosoft HD Photo to be the [...]

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  16. [...] ìïõóéêÞ óôï êéíçôü ìå WiFi áíïé÷ôü óçìáßíåé íåêñÞ ìðáôáñßá ðïëý ãñÞãïñá. Ï Om Malik áíáöÝñåé ôçí ìåßùóç ðùëÞóåùí CDs ìïõóéêÞò êáé ôçí åðéôõ÷ßá ôïõ iTunes. Ãßíåôáé êáé áðü ôïõò äýï áíáöïñÜ óôï êüóôïò ôçò êÜñôáò slotMusic ðïõ [...]

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  17. [...] joining the chorus of conventional wisdom here (here are slams from TechCrunch and GigaOm), which is always dangerous. SanDisk is a smart company–who’d have ever guessed that a [...]

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  18. you could look at this another way.
    say you went to the store to buy a new Micro SD card,
    which one would you buy, the one that was empty or the
    one that came with the free music on it?
    this sounds like a good way for SanDisk to increase the
    sales of there brand of Micro SD cards over there competitors.
    sounds like a win to me :-)

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  19. this might work in india. since there is no itunes and there are 250million mobile users.

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  20. [...] Om Malik’s not sure there’s a spot available in the market for a physical replacement for CDs, as people want fewer thingies to collect and manage.  [...]

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  21. I can’t see why you don’t appreciate this new format. These things are going to take up so much less space than my current collection of 78 rpm records and 8 track tapes. Way to go recording industry! Way to modernize!

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  22. slotMusic reminds me of BluRay: http://tinyurl.com/3q4lxr

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  23. [...] possibilità delle slotMusic di essere un formato pensato per il lungo termine. Il blog tecnologico GigaOm parla invece di un prodotto “destinato al fallimento”, evidenziando il crollo delle [...]

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  24. [...] I don’t think the idea will go very far. I tend to agree with Om Malik who lists 5 reasons why the scheme will fail, and I think the biggest issue is that people just aren’t interested in physical media any [...]

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  25. [...] Blogs unanimously anticipate disaster. Mike Arrington cynically shows admiration for SanDisk to have convinced labels, and Om Malik simply predicts failure. [...]

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  26. I don’t necessarily disagree with your conclusion, but iTunes selling 5 billion songs since inception versus 511 million CDS (approx. avg. 8 songs per) for 2007 equals > 4 billion songs PER YEAR for CDs. The writing is on the wall, but to suggest that iTunes already trumps CDs is misleading.

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  27. [...] such a product along with the practicality of an alternative like a USB drive. GigaOM’s Om Malik predicts outright failure. But my question is this: Since technology in this decade has allowed music to travel without a [...]

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  28. [...] tiny from: TechCrunch.com original post / GigaOm.com original post Share and [...]

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  29. [...] Oh and did I mention that you need a USB adaptor to be able to transfer files on your computer? How much money is gonna be put wasted into that launch, and for how long they will try? [...]

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  30. [...] and Warner record labels to a brand new mobile-friendly medium. Initial reactions have been generally poor, but I remain optimistic. Plenty of phones have hot-swapping capabilities that hardly ever get [...]

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  31. [...] a creative offering on the table. The momentum of the industry is moving against them. Did you read Om’s write up this morning? If he was any more right he’d never be able to turn [...]

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  32. I think that they have a chance of this succeeding, in some niche markets that might be large enough to make money.

    To succeed, this format has to make sense for the music companies, for SanDisk, and for consumers.

    From the music company perspective, at this point if they get paid their wholesale pricing I think they’d agree to try anything.

    From SanDisk’s perspective, if this works they’ve found a way to sell many units to people. That is, while you may only use a few USB RAM cards, people build huge music collections, so they might buy huge collections of SlotMusic cards.

    From the consumer’s perspective new formats are generally annoying, but this one requires less buy-in than most. Compare it to CD’s – to play CDs when they were a new format you had to buy a CD player, which at the time was an exotic and expensive new piece of technology, and you can only play your CDs on the CD player. With SlotMusic, you buy music in a physical format that works with many existing devices (many phones have MicroSD slots, PC’s have USB, etc.) and the music itself is highly portable (320 Kbps MP3 files can play on anything). So it’s got a fairly low barrier to entry.

    You can think of the SlotMusic cards either as an “album” or as a “carrier for music”. I can see it working well both ways.

    Thinking it as an album means that you keep the chip that you bought and you stick it into your player when you want to listen to that music. I don’t think that will be hugely popular, except possibly at airports, etc., where people have time to kill and are likely to want to buy some music to listen to. In particular, I’m concerned that the chip is too small, and thus too likely to get lost. For people that keep music on the chips, I can imagine that they’ll start making MP3 players with lots of MicroSD slots for your music – if that happens this format will have won. I can also see bands selling band-branded MP3 players (from china for next to nothing) that just play the album off of a SlotMusic card. More likely than carrying tons of tiny chips around, I can imagine kids carrying around tiny, single-album MP3 players as jewelry advertising their love of their band. So I think that this format could succeed with kids, whose parents will buy them $20 disposable MP3 players, but who would never be given a real iPod.

    Thinking of it as a “carrier for music” however, means that you only use the SlotMusic card to get the music onto your computer and MP3 player. Compared to buying a CD and RIPing it, the SlotMusic looks pretty appealing. So for people that like buying physical stuff in stores, this is an alternative to CD’s.

    There’s the complexity that people won’t know whether they can buy this format or not. It’s not horrible a problem as “Plays For Sure” (the most cynically named branding program ever), but there’s going to be confusion when normal consumers see a display of SlotMusic and don’t know whether they can safely buy it. There’s going to have to be a big branding/education program around this. The easy answer is “you can always play it on your computer”, which is great, but if someone wants to play it on their iPod or phone, etc., it’s a longer discussion.

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  33. [...] initiative is being roundly panned by the likes of Om Malik, and to a lesser degree Mike Arrington.  We discussed it.  It’s not [...]

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  34. Let’s see here:

    This is a physical format, which means:

    1. It’s trying to help brick and mortar retailers,
    2. It’s trying to help the failing RIAA,
    3. It’s trying to help artists associated with the failing RIAA.

    #1, dead.
    #2, dying.
    #3, quickly forgotten.

    What a great idea, SanDisk!

    Here’s a clue: wireless transmission speeds are increasing. WiFi (open and closed) access is available in most major urban and suburban areas. Driving down my tiny street in a tiny town, there are 4 open routers.

    Here’s clue #2: people don’t want to have to manage their music anymore. People don’t just listen to jazz or rap or rock, singly. Their entertainment options are much wider than 1980.

    Here’s clue #3: people don’t want to deal with one format for their iPod, one format for their mobile phone, and one format for their PC, plus their PC at work and maybe their notebook. Too much data to deal with.

    The future of music is probably going to be streamed-on-the-fly. Many people tried it, most people failed, because the infrastructure and demand was not there. But it is getting there. No one wants CDs or MicroSD chips. People don’t want locked AACs or MP3-wanna-be formats. They want to open their streaming MP3 catalog app, pick the songs they’ve paid for, and listen to them anywhere, at any time, on any device they can log into. Maybe even their car stereos.

    When the record industry realizes that (A) they’re not needed anymore in terms of distribution, and (B) when the same music that is paid for again and again and again pisses off fans, they’ll see that their days are surely numbered.

    Someone out there, please work on an open streaming format that works, catalogs well, and is compatible with as many devices as possible. I’m sure it’ll happen, soon, and all we need is a little more bandwidth wirelessly. Then we can forget about different formats, physical media, or needing to move licenses around to various devices.

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  35. [...] Gigaom said the cards are “destined to fail,” pointing out that consumers seem to be moving away from “physical media.” [...]

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  36. [...] example, GigaOM (‘SanDisk SlotMusic Cards Are Destined To Fail’) says the venture is sure to end badly, and has some pertinent questions about the business [...]

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  37. ” if it is cheaper than blank 1 GB MicroSD cards it might be worth just buying and erasing the music …”

    It is possible that these are actually ROM MicroSD– if it costs less to make the cards read-only, then I don’t seem why they’d sell them as R/W.

    It seems possible that these might sell as an impulse/convenience product, especially if it costs less than a CD. It seems unlikely that they expect consumers to keep the media, as MicroSD is annoyingly small- how would you like to keep track of a hundred or so of these rattling around in a plastic soapdish??

    If I were paranoid, I’d suspect that Big Music is trying to kill the CD with the intent of replacing these non-protected Cards with a “new, improved” fully DRM’ product.

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  38. [...] Malik’s post is headlined “SanDisk SlotMusic Cards Are Destined to Fail.” Michael Arrington writes “Music On microSD: I Can’t Believe The Labels Fell For [...]

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  39. Actually, I do care about the physical media that my music is on. The other day I bought a CD from Amazon that was music from a well known musician who has launched a solo album on an independent label.

    I couldn’t buy the CD locally as it hasn’t arrived in stores yet and is unlikely to do so, according to the store I spoke with.

    I couldn’t download it from one of the local online music stores, because they don’t have agreements with the independent label. Even if they did the only choice I’d have would be DRM’d WMA which is problematic when you use Linux as your computing platform.

    I also couldn’t download it from Amazon because they currently don’t allow downloads to users in my country.

    So I was faced with the only choice, which is to buy the CD (physical media) and have it shipped to me via the post.

    With this in mind, until US digital download services are working in Australia I’m glad that the CD is still around. If SlotMusic could be sold via Amazon with the same restrictions that the CD has, which appears to be rather minimal, I hope it succeeds. At least until our local music download stores catch up with offerings like Amazon, or Amazon starts selling in Australia.

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  40. i don’t disagree with the idea that customers looking for a mini card will buy these and get free music- if they just want a cheap 1gb card but egad, when do i want to buy only a 1gb card. if the music isn’t the sell, the 1gb size limit will not be either. flawed idea, failed execution. they would do better with multi-size cards sold out of kiosks that you could load music up on, otf or some sort of oat delivery solution…

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  41. [...] one of these while they last, because they’ll be collectors items by this time next year. The future of music is free streaming and (also free, eventually) [...]

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  42. [...] flash memory cards the future of digital music? Probably not, but they could lead to cheaper flash disks and other unexpected [...]

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  43. To listen to free streaming music online, I found some incredible website: http://www.deezer.com/en

    It’s incredible! Free, legal, and it has a huuuuuuuge catalogue!

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  44. This WILL fail and fail hard. Sell me a 4 gig card loaded with whatever music I pick and maybe I will buy it, but what are you going to do, carry around like 20 of these things with your music on them? Stupid idea. I can’t wait to see how much plastic will be used in the packaging. If we eliminated all this moronic packaging we could use all that petroleum for heating oil and gas instead of putting something the size of a thumbnail in a package the size of a car….

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  45. [...] of DRM, might make this a niche contender. There are many people condemning SlotMusic as a daft move, but I’m not convinced by the argument that people don’t want to buy music in a [...]

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  46. LOL @ SanDisk

    Any person who paid attention in an MBA class or had half-a-brain would know about the case studies such as Betamax and MiniDisc.

    Fact 1:
    In April of this year, iTunes surpassed Wal-Mart as the #1 retailer of music in the USA.

    Fact 2:
    CD sales continue to decline dramatically

    Fact 3:
    Digital downloads are more convenient than physical media

    Fact. 4:
    It is EXTREMELY hard to launch new physical formats

    I must admit though, I will probably buy one to add to my collection alongside Memory sticks, UMDs, Betamax and MiniDiscs.

    Wait, did SanDisk change it’s name to Sony?

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  47. DIGITAL DOWNLOADS LIKE iTunes ARE LOWER QUALITY THAN slotMusic

    #1 Music retailer iTunes uses a lower bit rate of 128 kbits/sec for most of their catalog. Why would you want to buy a full album in this lower quality format? I thought recording technology was advancing? I hope the big 4 record companies decide to do the slotMusic MP3 encoding with the highest quality encoders from the full size master file. The press release says they will be using a 320 kbits/sec bit rate & a 44 kHz or 48 kHz sampling rate. As long as the engineers are going for the best MP3 file they can make, it might be marketable as “HI QUALITY” as advertised. With slotMusic you will probably get a full album, artwork, lyrics, liner notes & a video for $10.

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  48. [...] extra to carry around. There are already a number of sites pointing out how dumb this is from a user experience point of view, but there is another seriously bad taste to all [...]

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  49. Why not go the a slightly other route for this.

    Back in the day, they had a big machine at the music store, where you could pick your tunes for a small amount of $$ a piece and it would make a tape for you with the songs you chose.

    Maybe take that and combine it with the new tech and let people being in a flash drive and load it with songs they purchase.. Like itunes, but at a brick and mortor store that also sells cds etc..

    -T-

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  50. Thought you might appreciate my article today on the SlotMusic experience.

    http://www.EntertainmentInsider.com

    Thanks!

    e.I

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  51. [...] on the future chances of SlotMusic either. A quick spin through the blogosphere will reveal that GigaOM, The NY Times, NewsOK and Technologizer and Engadget all agree that SlotMusic is destined to fail, [...]

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  52. slotMusic isnt the problem. technology will never evolve if we just accept the terms of today’s standard. music and video content will always be used as an bait or added treat to sell a brands primary product. Whether its a blackberry curve or mp3 player, or game console, they all have to adapt to shifts and advancements in technology.

    Slotmusic is just playing its part in that growth. Scientists cant do it alone in a lab. Us, as a creative community has to continue to think big and forward, so scientist and developers can do what they do and create that technology.

    consumers shifting from the physical cd to a newer formats is an unstoppable transition, but lets not slow it down.

    Why not compete with Apple? didnt google come after yahoo?

    Sandisk is helping to power a new digital music culture. the microsd card still gives you that in-store experience, and can still attract the impulse music buyer. couple that with a video screen that would allow you to preview content (songs, artwork, videos), etc. now its up to sandisk to push for that new technology that can enhance the in-store experience and then encourage the Best buys and walmarts to support it before they completely give up on selling any kind of physical format.

    competition is beautiful, it keeps us all on our a game. but win or lose, the consumer should always get the best.

    Kamal

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  53. [...] when I have an iPod that will store my entire music collection? I don’t seem to be the only one who thinks [...]

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  54. [...] Malik at GigaOm predicted they would fail, citing several very good reasons including the declining interest in physical [...]

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  55. [...] idea hasn’t been met with great enthusiasm from bloggers. So is SanDisk making the right bet or should it be concede the ring to the iPod and get out of the [...]

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  56. [...] more consumers give up CDs and move towards digital music, there is also the question of whether the market really wants to take a step back towards physical media, this time in the [...]

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  57. [...] idea hasn’t been met with great enthusiasm from bloggers. So is SanDisk making the right bet or should it be concede the ring to the iPod and get out of the [...]

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  58. [...] more consumers give up CDs and move towards digital music, there is also the question of whether the market really wants to take a step back towards physical media, this time in the [...]

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  59. [...] Om Malik’s not sure there’s a spot available in the market for a physical replacement for CDs, as people want fewer thingies to collect and manage.  We’ll see.  Is the market in other geographic regions? [...]

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  60. I’m not even a kid, I’m 51 years old. And I concur with you that this is the most massive, epic fail in the history of the music business. I’m old. I lose stuff. Can’t even imagine myself w/ a boatload of teensy SanDisks to stress about. And SanDisk disks are (nowdays) no longer as reliable as they once were, so what happens when the card inevitably breaks after 3 weeks of insertion/removal/living in my wallet?

    Not a snowball’s chance this is going to work. It’s hard to believe humans can even BE this stupid.

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  61. You say “I am not sure how he can say that three times as many people buy CDs as music from online sources.” Which means you have a pretty iood idea how he can say it but are just not sure. Then you follow it with a statement and a question (which is missing a question mark) intended to show that he can’t say that. Which suggests that you in fact don’t know, but instead said you’re not sure. Why would you try to imply that you know more than you do, especially in a situation where not knowing is the point? Sorry, but if you can’t even state something so simple without contradicting yourself, then how can we be expected to take anything you say seriously?

    If you want to be taken seriously, I suggest you seriously consider hiring a competent editor.

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