Labels launch slotMusic format, miss point of digital music
By Jacqui Cheng | Published: September 22, 2008 - 11:36AM CT
Now that the online music market is hoppin', it's time to introduce a new, not-very-ubiquitous physical format! That's the thought that apparently ran through the collective minds of SanDisk and the Big Four music labels, it seems, as they announced an "innovative" physical format called slotMusic on Monday morning. slotMusic is actually a tiny, flash-based microSD card with a full album's worth of MP3s slapped onto it, which will then be sold through a number of brick-and-mortar and online stores. The idea is to sell full albums in a smaller and more portable format than CD that can supposedly be played directly on a variety of devices. The problem is that the physical format ship has sailed, and slotMusic is destined to sink.
According to SanDisk, slotMusic cards "enable consumers to instantly and easily enjoy music from their favorite artists without being dependent on a PC or internet connection." After purchasing the SD card from a Best Buy or Wal-Mart, for example, listeners will be able to stick it into a microSD-capable phone or MP3 player and listen to the album instantly—no downloading or annoying DRM authorization required. The cards will even be packaged with a USB card reader so that users can connect them to their computers and listen to the music or transfer it off the card.
The DRM-free MP3s on the card will be available in a reasonably high-quality 320kbps. Artists and albums have not yet been announced, but the selection will come from EMI, Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, or Warner Music, so you can expect that major acts will be well represented at the onset. Finally, users can transfer their own data to the 1GB microSD cards, like other music or their own notes, documents, videos, etc. There are apparently no restrictions on what can be done with the cards once they are purchased.
slotMusic is just like a CD or vinyl, but not! You see?
The purpose of slotMusic, as evidenced by the video on the product's main page, is basically to provide another option for customers who might otherwise cherry pick their favorite tracks by inventing a new way to sell full albums on something other than CDs or vinyl, and to do so on something tiny. SanDisk touts the fact that slotMusic can be used on multiple devices, and the obvious goal is to sell to those who are on the run and want to pop a microSD card into their phones or portable music players. But how many people do you know who have phones and portable music players with microSD cards? There might be a few, but at least from our perspective, they certainly don't make up a majority—or even a large minority—of the population. I, personally, don't own a single device that takes microSD cards except for my digital camera, and that seems to be the case for most of the Ars staff. Granted, some BlackBerrys take microSD cards, so there are a couple of us who could make use of slotMusic if we wanted to. But why would we want to?
In a world where we can easily purchase all the music we could ever want online without ever having to set foot inside of a Wal-Mart—and increasingly, purchase it wirelessly right from our mobile devices—exactly which segment of the market SanDisk is going after remains a mystery. Digital music is all about convenience, and requiring someone to walk into a store or wait for something to be shipped in an unfamiliar format is not convenient. There's a reason why CD sales are tanking—and it's not because they're too big to pop right into your BlackBerry.