While the demise of the compact disc (CD) has spared a good deal of shelf space, it also has pushed the album to the brink of extinction. And, as anyone who’s ever listened to Van Morrison’s “Moondance” knows, a great album offers sonic pleasures mere singles can never truly match. Oddly enough, a new format called slotMusic(TM) looks at once to eliminate the CD for good and save the album from certain death.
SanDisk, a company known for its flash memory data storage products, has partnered with four of the top record labels to produce the new music medium. slotMusic are small memory cards that will feature full-length albums and additional content, and are compatible with MP3 players, computers, cell phones, game consoles and more. The tiny slotMusic cards (smaller than postage stamps) will start filtering into stores like Best Buy and Wal-Mart this holiday season, with prices expected to be comparable to CDs. The music on the card will be in the MP3 format and, with no digital rights management copy protection, listeners will be (legally) allowed to transfer music to their PCs, delete songs from the card and fill up open space with their own data (cards initially will have one gigabyte of storage – though that number will be expanded in the future). And, slotMusic has another great thing going for it: accessibility. Unlike past music media (e.g. – records, tapes, CDs), people don’t need to have special players to accept the new format since millions of phones, MP3 players and computers are already equipped with microSD card slots.
More portable and digitally compatible than the elderly CD, SanDisk and the labels are betting on slotMusic to “click” with the iTunes generation and help offset plummeting profit margins. Record labels EMI Music, Sony BMG, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group all have pledged support for slotMusic and will release a mix of current and past albums in the new medium. With figures dropping annually for nearly a decade, consumers purchased only 511 million CDs last year (down from the peak of 942 million in 2000). The music industry, unprepared and unwilling to deal with the effect of downloads on album sales, has mostly just panicked and reacted preposterously. Along with suing music downloaders (AKA: potential customers), they’ve refused to lower CD prices to lure in buyers. Now, the labels are hoping slotMusic will offer the downloading crowd a more accessible medium. SanDisk reps claim research indicates that a lot of music listeners who prefer digital music would like to have a way to play it in MP3 players and phones without first synching the music through a computer.
While slotMusic has the potential for success, will consumers really go for another physical music format? That remains to be seen. Fact is, it may not just be the CD medium that has become outdated, but the album itself. Nowadays, most people would rather pay a couple bucks to download radio-friendly singles from an album than take a risk on the whole thing. And that’s understandable. Think about how many albums you’ve liked from start to finish in the past year. How about in the past decade? At best, maybe a handful. Even true album purists will admit the majority of the CDs out there are mostly filler. It’s gotten to the point where we believe an album is good if we like half the songs – really not a strong percentage at all. And that’s the fault of both the artists and the record labels. The music industry has spent far too long focusing on ways to make money rather than producing quality products. Unfortunately for them, the marketing tool of selling CDs based on one hit single backfired with the dawn of the Internet. Now, the hopes of the music industry and the album itself rest on the surface of the slotMusic card. And that may just be too heavy a burden for the tiny device to bear.