18 March 02005

The re-invented cassette format for the digital age

Magnatune TunePlugDigital music innovator Magnatune, having re-invented the concept of a record label, last week introduced what could be seen as a new music format that is both digital and physical.

Their TunePlug is a reusable USB Flash Drive that comes in various sizes: from $19.99 for the 64MB version to $69.99 for the 512MB. Each version comes loaded with tracks from ten leading Magnatune artists as MP3 files — the largest having ten complete albums by these artists. That's under $7 per album, cheaper than CD or iTunes Music Store. And if you don't like any of the tracks, you can 'tape over' them by deleting them and freeing up the storage for other tracks (or data) of your choosing. So it has all the traditional features and uses of an old pre-recorded cassette. All the music is licensed under Creative Commons so you can copy it wherever and whenever you like, as long as the copying is non-commercial. The design of the packaging could do with some attention, however.

[Update 24 March 02005: I met John Buckman, founder of Magnatune, at a Pho meeting last night. He clarified a couple of points: first, whichever version you buy, you can get all ten full albums, but with the smaller versions you have to download the extra tracks rather than having them all pre-loaded; second, the price of the TunePlugs is pretty much the same as you'd pay for 'blank' USB flash drives of the same capacity.]

The availability of compact data storage, as offered by the TunePlug, can be of non-trivial value to consumers. This recent article refers to radiologists, police and military, as well as students, exploiting the handy data storage offered by iPods.

The TunePlug isn't the first package to combine music and storage. You could argue that the U2 iPod already did that, and threw in the player to boot. That was at the top end of the market, but manufacturing costs of the iPod Shuffle being reported to be $59 (and presumably likely to fall). So is it possible that we'll start to see promotional products that bundle player and music at prices little more than you would normally pay for the music alone? Then cheap MP3 players would become a similar kind of commodity to disposable cameras.

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Future of Music, Music and Multimedia on 18 March 02005 | TrackBack
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