The World Probably Doesn’t Need slotMusic

By  |  Monday, September 22, 2008 at 7:24 am

Music is about to get microscopic. Flash storage kingpin SanDisk is launching slotMusic, which it calls an “innovative, new physical music format.” Actually, what it is is DRM-free albums sold on MicroSD cards, along with a USB adapter. According to the New York Times, the albums may cost $7-$10 apiece; according to GigaOm, the format will launch with 29 (count ’em!) albums. SlotMusic has the support of major labels EMI, Sony BMG, Universal, and Warner, as well as physical music behemoths Best Buy and Wal-Mart.

SanDisk presumably sees slotMusic (whose site, incidentally, barely mentions SanDisk) as an opportunity to sell millions more flash cards a year. For consumers, though, I’m not sure if the format passes the “why?” test. Here’s SanDisk’s pitch:

“slotMusic cards enable consumers to instantly and easily enjoy music from their favorite artists without being dependent on a PC or internet connection. Users simply insert the slotMusic card into their microSD-enabled mobile phone or MP3 player to hear the music – without passwords, downloading or digital-rights-management interfering with their personal use.”

Okay, so if I’m in Best Buy and see some music that looks irresistible, I can buy it and be listening within moments. If I bought a CD, I’d have to rip and transfer it; if I bought from an online store like iTunes or Rhapsody, I’d have to transfer.

But slotMusic’s instant gratification seems overwhelmed but its downsides, and by upsides of other music formats that it doesn’t have:

–The slotMusic cards are a gigabyte but contain only one album, requiring you to either swap them in and out of your phone each time you listen (clumsy!) or transfer songs off of the card (also clumsy, but in a different way!);

–Owning and managing multiple MicroSD cards sounds like a hassle; many phones aren’t really designed to have you swapping cards frequently, and any card that’s the size of your fingernail will inevitably get lost;

–If I had to choose between a format that offers instant gratification for 29 albums and one that offered slightly-delayed gratification for millions of ’em, it’s an easy choice;

–When all is said and done, isn’t it more convenient to download music from home then to have to shlep to Best Buy, anyhow?

I’m 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 memory-card manufacturer would end up in second place to Apple as an MP3 player manufacturer, leaving Sony, Samsung, and Creative in the dust? Then again, its earlier foray into putting content on flash storage, the Fanfare TV service, was a resounding flop, and the company killed it within months of its introduction.

Me, I’m unlikely to pick up any albums on slotMusic until you can buy obscure 1960s bubblegum music on it. And come to think of it, much of the music I buy isn’t available in digital format at all yet.

Here’s my comparison of slotMusic and the good ol’ Compact Disc. And it’s time for a poll:

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  1. Sallymae Hogsby Says:

    This might work in a “gift card” sort of way, where it’s temporary, and then gets transferred to the player/phone/computer. But as mentioned by several people, it’s doesn’t seem a very cost effective way to do this, unless MicroSD cards end up costing under a dollar to manufacture.