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slotMusic: People are actually buying

February 6, 2009 |  7:28 pm

Slotmusic_logo The first results are in for the well-mocked SanDisk slotMusic cards, and they don't quite fit Engadget's prediction of "disappointing holiday sales." I don't offer these as proof positive, either, 'cause there are some drawbacks in the methodology (more on that later). But they're intriguing, at least.

The slotMusic cards are being sold at only two outlets, Wal-Mart and Best Buy. The data SanDisk offered this week comes from Wal-Mart, which sells cards and players separately (i.e., no bundles). According to Daniel Schreiber, who is the general manager of SanDisk's audio and video business unit, Best Buy hasn't coughed up numbers yet. And Wal-Mart's figures don't reveal how many copies of each title it sold, just the percentage purchased in the slotMusic format (based on same-store sales).

So, without further caveat, here are some numbers regarding the few dozen titles that were available at Wal-Mart on both CD and microSD card. After the first 60 days (mid-November to mid-January), more than 13% of the sales in those titles were in the slotMusic format -- up from 5% in late December. The highest percentages were for albums by the Pussy Cat Dolls and Jimi Hendrix, each of which were overtaking their CD sales (or close to doing so). The slotMusic cards for Nelly's "Brass Knuckles" and Usher's "Here I Am" each made up close to 40% of those titles' sales.

You could, of course, assume that the percentages were high because very few copies of those CDs sold -- maybe urban titles don't do well at Wal-Mart, and the Hendrix collection is more than a year old. But with Wal-Mart selling CDs and slotMusic cards for the same price -- just under $14 (the slotMusic player sells for $19) -- it's safe to assume that people weren't choosing one or the other based on cost. And who knows, maybe people really are using them to turn their phones into MP3 players.

I'd feel better about these numbers if SanDisk disclosed a dollar figure for slotMusic card sales. But Schreiber declined to give up that information, saying, "SanDisk doesn’t break out products on a revenue basis." So haters can console themselves with the thought that there's something fishy about Wal-Mart's disclosure. The critics don't matter. The audience that really matters to SanDisk is the record labels, because the format won't last long without a lot more content.

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division.

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