September 23, 2008
Music on Memory Cards to Hit Stores
NEW YORK - Just as vinyl once gave way to compact discs as the main physical medium for music, could CDs be replaced by a fingernail-sized memory card?
Perhaps not entirely, but SanDisk Corp., four major record labels and retailers Best Buy Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are hoping that albums sold on microSD memory cards will at least provide an additional stream of sales. The companies were expected to unveil plans today to sell memory cards loaded with music in the MP3 format, free of copy protections.
Called "slotMusic," the new format 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. CD sales dropped almost 19 percent last year.
Given this, the record labels - Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group Corp. and EMI Group PLC - are hoping slotMusic can be another physical revenue source - and one that is more versatile than CDs, given the gadgets people carry around these days.
Unlike when the CD was introduced and people had to buy new players, many people already have the ability to play slotMusic albums, since many cell phones and multimedia players support microSD cards. These new albums will come with a small USB dongle that lets buyers use them with computers, too.
"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.
Mr. Schreiber said slotMusic albums will be sold on 1 gigabyte microSD cards, which means they will be able to hold a full album and related content such as liner notes and cover art. Buyers will be able to use extra space on the cards to hold songs and photos from their own collections.
The cards and dongles will come in boxes similar to current CD packaging, and Mr. Schreiber expects the cost of slotMusic releases to be close to CD prices.
It's not yet known exactly when albums will be initially sold in the format, but Mr. Schreiber expects retailers to give a "sizable amount of shelf space" to slotMusic albums. They are expected to debut at multiple retailers, including Best Buy and Wal-Mart stores.
Rio Caraeff, executive vice president of Universal Music Group's eLabs digital music unit, said the label will initially release 30 titles in the slotMusic format. The titles will include old and new albums.
Originally published by Associated Press.
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