SanDisk and Major Music Labels Attempt to Revive the Physical Music Format

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SanDisk has teamed up with EMI Music, Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group to bring DRM-free MP3 music preloaded on microSD cards. These cards, dubbed "slotMusic," will be available at Best Buy and Walgreens, where they'll be sold alongside CDs in a designated section.

SlotMusic cards can be inserted into any microSD-enabled mobile phone or MP3 player (or into your camera, if you're feeling crazy). The cards will be bundled with a USB sleeve that is compatible with all Windows, Linux, and Mac computers; no downloads are required.

The cards will hold 1GB of content, enough room for songs, liner notes, album art, videos, and other creative elements of the artist's choice. The rewritable cards will have enough space left over for consumers to add their own content as well. And since the music will not be locked to the card, users can drag and drop songs into whatever media player they use.

SanDisk hinted at the move to deliver music on flash memory a few months ago when the company offered the promotional Sansa Sessions MP3 compilation on a 512MB card free with purchase of the 8GB Sansa Fuze player. The compilation included 50 songs by "up-and-coming" bands such as Ladytron, Of Montreal, and Nada Surf. They're not the first to use this approach: Disney has been selling memory cards preloaded with music content, aimed at the tween set.

Part of the allure of physical formats is the artwork, pressing, liner notes, and other extras that come with CDs. An initial concern with the microSD format is that these elements would be missing, which may disappoint consumers who prefer CDs over online music. SanDisk confirmed, however, that slotMusic cards will be packaged similarly to CDs, and the company says that slotMusic will have physical liner notes and album cover artwork on the package.

Even so, SanDisk's plan appears to be fraught with obstacles--starting with the fact that sales of physical music formats have been declining for years, due to the array of online music services available at consumers' fingertips. Another potential problem for SanDisk is the small size of the slotMusic media: Why buy cards that you can easily misplace, when you can instead download the same content directly to your hard drive?

A backlash against the high price of CDs figured prominently in the movement toward online music services, so the price of slotMusic will be crucial to its success. The cards must be priced no higher than what iTunes, Napster, and other online music services charge for an album.

A SanDisk representative said that the company understands what consumers want to pay for music and that slotMusic will be priced accordingly. A complete list of slotMusic albums, availability, and pricing will be announced closer to the holiday season.

This story, "SanDisk and Major Music Labels Attempt to Revive the Physical Music Format " was originally published by PCWorld.

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