Album Released on Flash Memory Card

By Richard Menta 10/19/04

Back in 1999 when Diamond released its second MP3 portable, the Rio 500, the player came with a case that had slots to hold a dozen or so flash media cards. The thought then was that eventually albums would be available on flash media cards that would be sold in record stores alongside CDs and cassettes.

Five year's later artist Robbie William's is looking to test if that indeed is a notion that's ready to come to fruition.

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Today it was announced Williams' greatest-hits album will arrive in UK music stores available not only on CD, but on SD memory card, the smallest and most popular of several flash media formats. The album will also include video content.

While the idea sounds tempting, one reason it had not happened to date is because of the distribution efficiencies of Net delivery. On the Net, delivering a file is as easy as posting it on a site. The consumer comes to you and downloads. Delivering a digital file on flash media wrapped in a blister pack harks back to the old delivery model of pressing, teamster shipping, and warehousing a product for store shelves. That adds significantly to overall costs.

Flash memory is relatively expensive too. A 64MB Secure Digital card retails for about $20 these days, more than one spends on a standard CD. Granted, the record company works out a volume discount, but it still makes a dent in the cost of the product in this form.

But even if the record company paid the full $20 US retail for a blank flash card, I can't see how they got to the $54.13 US price point, which when subtracted means the buyer is spending $34.13 for content they can acquire for under twenty bucks.

I can have my doubts for this plan's appeal to consumers, even if these flash records were priced the same as a regular CD.

But I also understand why it appeals to record execs. It fits in with the old distribution model. The record company stamps out a physical product, packages it, and ships it to retailers. They control physical distribution. It is familiar and comforting.

The Net on the other hand is something they distrust. It is something they are not comfortable with, even though Apple has made it easier for them. Even though their profit per song is much higher at a much lower cost to the consumer that $54.13.

$54.13 is a price for adult audiophiles, not for the teenagers who embrace digital downloads far more than their thirty and forty something parents.

I thought selling music on flash cards was the future in 1999. 2004 is the future and from today's perspective services like Apple iTunes offer a cleaner vision. It doesn't mean that flash cards can't replace cassettes on the record aisles, for one thing they take up a lot less space.

It's just that the biggest complaint I and other consumers have over store-bought records is that twenty dollar for a CD is too much. They just don't offer enough value at that price point.

$54.13 seems more like a fishing expedition. A price point that is priced to intentionally fail.


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