Undaunted by the lack of success seen by the ringtone/CD-single hybrid known as the Ringle, the four major labels have decided to dive back into the brick-and-mortar world with a new format that brings together one-gigabyte memory cards and full-length albums. The new format, which will supposedly be compatible with both mobile phones and home PCs, has been given the unwieldy name SlotMusic*; the Wall Street Journal says each album in the line will cost $15, while the New York Times claims that the format’s price point will be in the single-digit range.
# What’s on the card: The music will be in the form of MP3 files, with no digital rights management restrictions. It will be encoded at 320 kilobytes per second, a higher quality than most download services. The labels also hope to add value to the cards with liner notes, lyrics, videos and other digital goodies. SanDisk is working on adding other enhancements, like songs that can be played a few times but then must be paid for to be unlocked.
# Easy to use: If you want to get music onto a cellphone that has a MicroSD slot, sticking one of these cards in the slot is easier than trying to download songs and transfer them to the phone. (Sure, you can download songs over the air, but that will cost you $2 a track, thanks to the labels. And lots of people don’t have data plans on their phones.) If you want to listen to music on your PC or on your iPod, downloading it from iTunes may be easier, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was another segment that would find the tangible experience of buying the package in a store to be more attractive (particularly if the price and bonus features made it a better proposition than iTunes).
I don’t know about bonus features being make-or-break for anyone–seriously, are people still trying to push the whole “wallpaper for your mobile phone” angle–and the fact that these releases can’t be immediately played in cars (at least not yet) seems like it would be a dealbreaker for many a suburban customer who wants immediate musical satisfaction. Forget the “iTunes is the future” argument; whether or not the casual consumer will be ready to shift her buying habits away from CDs is something of a long shot at this point. This is wholly anecdotal evidence, but a recent trip to a Best Buy revealed a very-well-stocked rack of those gift cards that were redeemable for full albums–and the titles in stock were the likes of Celine Dion’s Taking Chances and Carrie Underwood’s Carnival Ride, i.e., albums that were in the initial product launch earlier this year. It didn’t seem like those particular shelves had been in need of replenishment ever.
I suspect that the only thing saving SlotMusic from that same fate is the fact that the drives are formattable, and if each album is below the $10 mark, at least making the cards cheaper than blank one-gig flash memory drives should at least appeal to people who want a bargain on portable memory storage. Hey, a bargain’s a bargain, even if you have to rid said bargain of the New Kids On The Block album before it actually becomes useful.
* Oh, the jokes that will ensue if the Pussycat Dolls album is among the launch titles.