SanDisk misses the point of digital music

SanDisk has unveiled a “new” music format for retail purchase, slotMusic. It has the backing of Universal Music Group, Sony BMG , Warner Music Group, and EMI on the label side; Wal-mart and Best Buy on the retail side. I say “new” because it is simply a collection of MP3 files on a microSD card.

The reason for introducing the new format:

[slotMedia] is meant to address two intertwined trends. Most albums are still sold in a physical format – 449 million were sold on CDs in 2007, while 50 million were sold digitally, according to Nielsen SoundScan – yet CDs are decreasingly popular. Albums sold on CD dropped almost 19 percent last year.

Reduced to: CD sales down (though still dominant), downloads up. I don’t think CD sales are dropping off simply because the music isn’t already in MP3 format. They are dropping off because of the ease and instant gratification of digital downloads. I still have to go to a brick & mortar store for slotMedia, and there-in lies the problem. Though, they see the release of the music on a physical medium, particularly microSD, as a plus:

“Particularly in this kind of economic climate, the idea of being able to use an electronic device you already own to enjoy music rather than going out and buying a dedicated player is pretty compelling,” said Daniel Schreiber, who heads the audio-video business unit at SanDisk, which created the microSD card format and is working on the technology behind slotMusic.

First of all, I, and many people, already own one or more devices that can play digital media without having to buy several microSD cards, or even step within a store. Secondly, the emphasized passage explains the real reasons for the “new” music format. SanDisk wants a new channel to sell their microSD cards.  But I have to ask, “technology behind slotMusic?” It’s a microSD card with unencrypted MP3 files. I have this technology with me right now: a cardreader.

Now, in all honesty, I think music distribution on flash memory is a good thing. I also think it’s good that they’re using an established format and not something new and proprietary. The timing is just off. If prices were right, the ideal time would’ve been 3-5 years ago. But given the use of a microSD card, the packaging should be smaller, reducing waste, and prices should come down, right?

The cards and dongles will come in boxes similar to current CD packaging, and Schreiber expects the cost of slotMusic releases to be “in the ballpark” of current CD prices.

Damn. It was just a thought.