SanDisk SlotMusic Cards Are Destined to Fail

Updated: SanDisk, a flash memory chip maker that has been fighting off competitor Samsung’s bid to acquire the company, has launched SlotMusic MicroSD memory cards that will carry full-length music albums just like a music CD or a vinyl. The albums are going be placed next to CDs in popular stores like Wal-Mart. Four major record labels have joined SanDisk on this adventure, which is going to end badly. Here are my reasons:

  1. CD sales according to Recording Industry of America dropped from 942 million CDs in 2000 to 511 million in 2007. It is a good sign that people don’t much care about the “physical media” very much these days.
  2. iTunes has sold over 5 billion songs, indicating people like to download music when they indeed want to pay/buy music.
  3. SlotMusic will have 29 albums on day one — not enough for even the most curious to pick one up. I will also remind people of Mini Discs, which tried to fight it out with the CD but didn’t get anywhere.
  4. They are going to target phones with MicroSD card slots. That is a good approach, though I’m not sure people will actually listen to full albums on their mobile phones. So not sure if this is the right format.
  5. Lastly, I think the cost structure of these devices is pretty strange. Depending on what the price is — between $7 and $10, according to The New York Times — I wonder how much money is left for SanDisk after paying off the music industry Shylocks. On top of that SanDisk will offer an adapter to plug these cards into USB slots of computers, and even that is going to cost money. Of course, if it is cheaper than blank 1 GB MicroSD cards it might be worth just buying and erasing the music. (That would mean that the music is totally worthless.)

I admire SanDisk for trying hard to add value to its commodity Flash memory cards. Remember, they had once promoted U3, an apps-on-the-go offering, ended up owning it and then shut it down. Similarly, they promoted TakeTV (I loved it), a USB PC-to-TV video device and had to shut it down because there weren’t many buyers. Why do I feel that SlotMusic is going down that route?

Update: The New York Times writer Saul Hansell thinks that some of us tech writers live in an echo chamber and are quick to judge. He thinks I am too hasty to write the obit of SlotMusic and offers a spirited defense. I am not sure how he can say that three times as many people buy CDs as music from online sources. The CD sales (as pointed above) have nearly halved. Come on if that isn’t a sign then what is. There are other reasons – one of them coming from a commentator on his site.

Ever try to insert a microSD card into BackBerry Curve? It involves removing the battery, sliding around a flimsy metallic frame, etc. You call that convenient? Forget about what the tech elite think. Think about how usable this is relative to what is available. This is Sandisk’s foleo moment. They are blinded by their desire to sell more flash memory.

No this wasn’t tech elite writing the obit – but someone who has been around the block and knows what people are going to put up with or not.