The news of the day is that SanDisk has just launched SlotMusic. The memory chip maker will distribute music from the four major labels on microSD cards. Music tracks will be encoded in MP3 at 320Kbps, DRM-free and pre-loaded on a 1GB microSD card that will sell for $7-$10.
Blogs unanimously anticipate disaster. Mike Arrington cynically shows admiration for SanDisk to have convinced labels, and Om Malik simply predicts failure.
Obviously the tiny memory card as a format to distribute media is a big improvement compared to the CD. It is smaller, it is erasable and it can “play” on most smartphones that have microSD slots, including Blackberry, Nokia, Motorola , HTC and Samsung to name a few. If the format succeeds, expect car stereos and DVD/music players to adopt it. But how does a physical card compare to online download? People love mp3, among other things, because it has freed us from the constraints of a physical disc. What was the last time you played a music audio CD on a CD player? I do not recall it myself. The last CD I bought was played only once on the PC while ripping it to the hard-drive.
So why SanDisk and the labels are coming back to physical distribution?
1) To overcome people reluctance to pay for intangibles, by selling music again as a tangible good that people can pay for and buy at Walmart (impulsively maybe)
2) To make microSD format THE standard for memory cards, and translate it into royalties for SanDisk.
Are those arguments enough to appeal teenagers to buy music on tiny cards? Not the second one, for sure. What else could make SlotMusic succeed? Here is my advice:
1) Go 2 or 4GB cards and do not sell just one album, but discographies: Queen’s discography, Mozart’s Piano Concertos or Puccini’s operas
2) Go for 2 or 4GB cards and sell video too: Movies and soundtrack together. Or TV series.
3) Get Apple to include a microSD slot in the iPhone and iPods. (Good luck)
What is the only chance of success? Points 1 and 2 above are based on the old principle, updated: “Never underestimate the bandwidth of a truck full of micro-SD cards”. It might be faster (and cheaper) to buy a card with all Madonna’s albums or the last movie from Woody Allen than downloading them from iTunes or BitTorrent. It is a matter of making it more convenient. So SlotMusic, you’d better go fast before we all get 100Mbps fiber-to-the-home, and can download movies in tens of seconds.
In summary: Who wins? The user, that will get cheaper microSD cards. SanDisk that will give an extra boost to its format.
Who loses? With few chances of success, one would say the labels… but wait, they have nothing else to lose by this time…