Slot Music may not hit the jackpot

Format wars have ensued in the video market, and DVD seems to be on its way out. But in a music world where digital downloads are an almost completely one-sided market in favor of Apple’s iTunes Store, competitive hardware isn’t giving up without a fight.

However, whether the music industry’s new contender is up to the challenge is up for debate.

Slot Music, the latest effort to stay afloat by four major record companies — Universal, Sony, Warner and EMI — is an attempt to reach out to consumers after a year when retail record sales fell by 19 percent.

Slot Music is a 1 GB Sansa Micro SD card containing music from popular artists and includes liner notes, album art and lyrics, plus extra space for users to save their own music — all for $14.99. Micro SD card slots come standard on most cell phones, MP3 players, cameras, computers and newer car stereos. On top of that, Slot Music packages will come with a USB operated Micro SD reader so consumers can get the most out of Slot Music.

The price of the hardware may come as a relief to consumers unwilling to fork out $250 for the lowest-level iPod classic, but one must take a long-term perspective of this new technology. Fifteen bucks isn’t too high of an asking price for one SD card, but buying more could easily become a hassle.

It’s easier to lose track of a bunch of cards barely larger than a thumbnail than to accidentally delete a file from your computer. Plus, if a user paid for a song on iTunes and it gets lost, it can be recovered free of charge. Having a tangible product is something that always seems to hurt the music industry. From the easily worn-out tape of cassettes to the sure-to-scratch surfaces of CDs — and now the microscopic size of Slot Music cards — there’s always a fatal flaw.

However, these cards are a valiant effort by the record industry, which must do something to keep up with a market that has grown very fond of its computers. Even if this technology doesn’t become the industry standard, at least the industry has done its part.

That’s the funny thing about the music industry. For some reason, the old standards never seem to go away. While dead technologies like VHS (and soon DVD thanks to Blu Ray) take major price cuts until they are no longer in production, old audio devices are still around.

Records and record players can still be bought at stores like Guitar Center and Hot Topic, and cassette tapes are still found at major retail stores for personal recording purposes.

The catch is, the product has to stay on the market long enough to carve out its own niche of users and fans. Remember when mini-CDs were poised to become the next big thing? Yeah, me neither.

Slot Music could be seen as a bright new direction for the record industry, but there is no denying that the iPod has a stranglehold on the MP3 player market. Let’s make a comparison, though: USB flash drives are in vogue for memory storage, but sales of portable hard drives and blank discs remain high enough to continue production.
The computer age is still in its infancy and all options are being explored when it comes to music and memory. There is so much money to be milked from technology that even the smallest market share in digital music can sustain itself profitably.