Flash drives offer new choices for music fans

Sat Feb 16, 2008 5:48pm EST
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By Jennifer Netherby

NEW YORK (Billboard) - When the Mars Volta put out its latest album, "The Bedlam in Goliath," in January, the act gave its hardcore fans an option that is becoming increasingly popular -- and creative.

Instead of a CD or digital version of the Universal album, fans could buy a $30 USB drive designed like a Ouija board planchette. The device comes with a digital-rights-management-free version of the album and the promise of more bonus materials in coming months. Users simply plug it into their computer's USB drive and then listen to the album or download it into their music library.

The Mars Volta joins a growing number of recording artists who have experimented with USB releases in recent months, among them Jennifer Lopez, Ringo Starr and Matchbox Twenty.

More are expected in coming months. Austin-based All Access, the company behind USB releases from Matchbox Twenty and Starr, has signed deals with EMI, Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group to make USB bracelets for other artists.

"The selling point to the labels is a really good one -- it's a marriage between merchandise and music so that people will at least buy it instead of stealing it because they want the merchandise," All Access CEO Chris Guggenheim said. "It's the only for-sure non-stolen product."


At this point, the releases are offered more as collectibles to build fan loyalty than as sources of revenue.

The cost of putting an album out on a USB drive is pricier than releasing it on a CD, partly because bands aren't placing bulk orders and partly because flash drives cost more than discs. Guggenheim said that bracelets generally cost $5 to $7 per unit. But costs can rise to $17 per unit or more for flash drives with more memory and other additions.   Continued...

<p>Former Beatle Ringo Starr poses for photographers at a photocall to mark the start of Liverpool's year as the European Capital of Culture in Liverpool, northern England, January 11, 2008. Starr is one of several recording artists who have experimented with USB releases in recent months, including Jennifer Lopez, the Mars Volta and Matchbox Twenty. REUTERS/Phil Noble</p>