SanDisk and record companies launch flash memory with music

Record companies are scrambling to find new ways to distribute music. The latest is slotMusic, albums stored on microSD cards.

Record companies are scrambling to find new ways to distribute music in the face of declining music sales. The latest is slotMusic, a microSD card containing music in MP3 format without DRM (digital rights management), playable on pocket devices such as mobile phones.

EMI Music, Sony BMG, Universal Music, and Warner Music have joined forces with memory card maker SanDisk, which is developing the technology behind slotMusic.

The cards will hold 1G byte of data and will ship with a USB (Universal Serial Bus) adapter so that users can add their own content using a PC.

SlotMusic cards will first be available at brick-and-mortar and online stores throughout the U.S., including Best Buy and Wal-Mart. A launch in Europe is also to follow. A complete list of slotMusic albums, availability and pricing will be announced in time for the coming holiday season, the companies said. So far, there are no details of the artists whose music will be available on the cards: The slotMusic Web site simply says that "the year's biggest releases" will be available in the new format.

To persuade listeners to buy a physical medium rather than download the songs, the record companies will offer extras including liner notes, album art, videos, and "other creative content that an artist may choose". Music tracks will also be played back at up to 320K bps.

Using microSD cards to store music sounds rather cumbersome to Paolo Pescatore, an analyst at CCS Insight. Built-in storage is still a scarce resource on most mobile phones, so users are dependent on memory cards for storing all kinds of data.

With a slotMusic card one would first have to take out the main memory card, put in the album, listen to it or move songs to the built-in storage (if available), take out the slotMusic card and then put back the main one. The fact that card slots are hard to get at on many phones doesn't help either, according to Pescatore: Reaching them on some models involves taking out the battery.

Pescatore also questions whether consumers will be able to find slotMusic in stores, and thinks that download services like Nokia's Comes With Music and Orange Music Max will be more viable alternatives.

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Mikael Ricknäs

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