Does the physical sale of audio still have a future?
Haven’t we been here before?
Today Samsung takeover target and flash memory giant SanDisk has announced ‘slotMusic’: a new physical music format where 320kbps encoded, DRM-free music will be sold on 1GB microSD cards. The seemingly antiquated plan also has the backing of all four major record labels (EMI, Sony BMG, Warner Music and Universal) so widespread support is expected but will anyone be convinced?
The theory is simple: mobile phones (Sony Ericsson models and the Apple iPhone apart) are united in their adoption of the microSD format so users will simply be able to pop down to their local store, buy a slotMusic album and insert it into their handsets. Notably, SanDisk’s Sansa Fuze and View MP3 players also carry microSD expansion slots. Furthermore, in an effort to convince end users, slotMusic cards will include lyrics, album art, liner notes, videos and “other creative content that an artist may choose”.
Of course the problem with all this is we have seen something virtually identical try and fail before. TrustedFlash (not a TR staff members streaker contest) was announced back in September 2005 and proposed – ready for this – DRM-”protected” albums and video content sold on microSD cards in a plan thought up by, yep, SanDisk.
So DRM apart – is a world ever more dominated by microSD mobile phones and devices likely to see slotMusic succeed where TrustedFlash failed? I sense not, because during this time online music downloads have arguably been accelerating even faster than the acceptance of microSD and many devices can now simply download music over the air. Besides, while the lack of DRM is nice, it doesn’t negate the need to carry packs of little – eminently losable – microSD cards around with you which is essentially the CD/Minidisc era, shrunk.
Lastly, while the 320Kbps bitrate is excellent it misses the obvious inclusion of lossless music. After all, for those who do still buy CDs a primary reason is being able to rip at an ultra high bitrate not available for download. 7Digitial recently began offering 320Kbps music from the ‘Big Four’ labels so will liner notes and unspecified “creative content” be enough to justify repeated trips to the shops?
The nostalgic part of me wants to say yes, but the realist says an emphatic no. Either way, an initial US launch will see slotMusic slot hit numerous stores across the country including heavyweights Best Buy and Wal-Mart. A European release will soon follow – whether we like it or not…