Wednesday, March 4, 2009

SanDisk's SlotRadio strategy

SanDisk's SlotMusic strategy puzzled me at first. I didn't understand why anybody would pay almost the same price as a CD for an easily misplaced microSD card with lower-quality audio. The release of the $19.99 SlotMusic player, which is basically an MP3 player capable of playing these cards, changed my opinion a little bit. But I suggested that the real strength would come in curated cards containing, for example, a selection of songs from the Billboard charts. Given that a regular album cost $14.99 on this format, I figured that a curated card for the same price would include 20 or 30, or maybe 100 songs.
At CES this week, SanDisk surpassed my expectations with the new SlotRadio, a $39.99 MP3 player with a preloaded microSD card containing 1,000 songs. That's four cents a song, plus you get to keep the player, which is capable of playing the SlotMusic albums and other music contained on a microSD card, and also has an integrated FM tuner.
The first players will contain cards preloaded with Billboard chart hits, which is a fine place to start, but SlotRadio could get really interesting if SanDisk branches out beyond the mainstream. Imagine a collection of the year's top-rated albums by Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, or Nic Harcourt. Or heck, go a little further and hire musicians to curate the collections: imagine Keith Richards' favorite blues songs, or an Alan Bishop collection. You might expect that music nuts--the kinds of people who care about Sublime Frequencies--wouldn't relinquish control of their playlists, but at four cents a song, I'd be happy to save myself the trouble of ripping or downloading 1,000 tracks and let somebody else drive for a while. As long as it's a driver I trust.

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