SanDisk and big labels in tech deal that could save the music business

22 Sep 2008

Storage media player SanDisk has joined forces with some of the world’s largest music labels to bring out a new physical music format called ‘slotMusic’ that will see media cards hit the market pre-loaded with DRM (digital rights management)-free MP3s from major artists.

The innovative new physical format has been championed by EMI, Sony BMG, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group as a way of re-formatting the music industry, helping it to sell its music online and in bricks and mortar stores.

Wal-Mart and Best Buy stores in the US will be the first to carry the slotMusic SD cards, with Europe soon to follow.

The significance of the deal is that it will drive more and more digital music to mobile phones and other portable media players, circumventing the PC-centric model of online music today.

The companies and SanDisk intend to launch a complete list of slotMusic albums and pricing, just in time for the busy Christmas sales season.

SanDisk – which is currently the target of a hostile takeover bid by Samsung – is responsible for most of the technology behind the new format.

The key advantage of the format is that users can access the music they need without the need for passwords, downloading or DRM.

“SlotMusic offers consumers an immediate, tangible, and high-quality alternative to CDs and digital delivery,” said Danielle Levitas, vice-president in charge of Consumer, Broadband and New Media at IDC.

“This year, more than 1.2 billion mobile phones will ship globally, outstripping portable media players by nearly an order of magnitude – and this trend is accelerating.”

SlotMusic cards will be packaged with a tiny USB sleeve, ensuring they work with all computers – Windows, Linux and Mac.

The upshot is that slotMusic will enjoy an unparalleled, pre-existing installed base at launch: hundreds of millions of multimedia phones, virtually any computer with a USB connector and a growing number of in-car sound systems will be able to play slotMusic cards.

The MP3-based music tracks will be played back at up to 320 kilobytes per second (kbps), offering a high-quality music experience for the MP3 format.

With 1GB (gigabyte) of capacity, slotMusic cards can hold songs, as well as liner notes, album art, videos, and other creative content that an artist may choose.

Consumers can also add their own content to a slotMusic card, creating a personal plug-and-play media library.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years