Music labels trying new format: mini flash cards

Times Staff Writer

Move over, compact discs. Something the size of a fingernail may offer the music industry a way to boost sales in retail stores as CD purchases continue to decline.

The four major record labels plan to start selling their music on mini flash memory cards that can be loaded into some mobile phones, digital music players and car stereos.

Made by SanDisk Corp., the slotMusic cards are expected to go on sale before the holiday season at Best Buy Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Neither SanDisk nor the record labels would disclose the price of the cards, other than to say they would be comparable to CDs.


In addition to music, the slotMusic cards will come pre-loaded with other things, such as liner notes, album-cover artwork and sometimes video.

Like many new formats before it, slotMusic faces major challenges in winning over mainstream consumers. Music industry executives say that they aren’t sure it will catch on but that they want to experiment with new ways of distributing their work.

SanDisk, a Milpitas, Calif., storage company, is the No. 2 seller of digital music players behind Apple Inc. Its goal with slotMusic is to offer consumers the ability to listen to digital music without having to use their computers.

The memory card can be plugged into most mobile phones or digital music players that have micro-SD slots, as well as computers or car audio systems with USB ports.

For many people, buying digital music is still too complex, said Rio Caraeff, executive vice president of Universal Music Group’s digital division.

“There is a segment of the market that can use a solution that can combine the benefits of both digital and physical medium,” he said.

Universal, the world’s largest record label, will start with 30 albums available on slotMusic cards, including new releases and compilations. The next album of one of its hip-hop stars, Akon, will be released on slotMusic as well as on other formats.

Because they are so small, Caraeff expects that slotMusic cards will sit on racks where shoppers don’t normally find music, such as at the supermarket checkout line and mall kiosks.

The music on slotMusic comes without copyright protection, so it can be used on almost all computers, mobile phones and music players -- but it won’t play on an iPod, which doesn’t have a micro-SD memory slot. It has one gigabyte of memory, and the music tracks are played back at high quality.

During SanDisk’s consumer research, slotMusic was well received among teenagers, who wanted to try out the latest technology, as well as with young working women who wanted to own music but didn’t want to take the time researching what to buy on a website, said Daniel Schrieber, senior vice president and general manager of SanDisk’s audio video business unit.

Mike McGuire, an analyst with research firm Gartner Inc., said that slotMusic faced numerous challenges, including getting people to accept a new music format.

But the biggest problem, he said, may be that Apple’s iTunes and other download services have made customers used to buying a song at a time, not an album, and making their own compilations.

“For a lot of people who have been online for a while, it is going to be a hard sell,” he said.