A push to use memory card as music medium
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-size 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 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. Albums sold on CD dropped almost 19 percent last year.
The record labels - 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 kinds of gadgets people use. Many people already have the ability to play slotMusic albums, on cellphones and multimedia players. These albums will come with a 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 SanDisk's Daniel Schreiber.
He 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.
Rio Caraeff, executive vice president of Universal Music Group's eLabs digital music unit, said the label will initially release about 30 titles in the slotMusic format.
Asked whether he sees the format taking the place of the CD, Caraeff said, "I think we would certainly hope that would be the case, but I don't think we are so tied to that."