Dead Dataplay

The Rocky Mountain News reports that Dataplay, the company offering small rewritable digital music disks, closed its doors on Friday, laying off all its workers. The Dataplay disks are actually small 500 MB disks — only a little bigger than quarter — that are to be used to in portable audio players, digital cameras, etc. Record labels had signed on to offer new albums on them, since the format has native copy protection. Like the very simliar minidisc, Dataplay disks use lossy compression for the audio. But because they have four times the capacity of minidiscs record labels were adding in lyrics, extra tracks and other crap to the disks.

While the idea may sound good on paper, I think it was clear the thing was doomed from the start. What they were trying to sell was portability and convenience, but Dataplay didn’t offer significantly more portability or convenience than CD-Rs or minidiscs. Of course, the deal breaker is that anyone wanting to use the things has to buy a $350 player/recorder and blank disks at $10 a pop. By comparison, you can get a CD-R burner for $100, a portable CD/MP3 player for $75 and discs cost less than 50 cents — and there’s no copy protection. Minidisc recorders cost $200 and discs are around $2 each.

I placed bets against this too-little, too-late technology back in March, before they hit the market. Clearly, that was an obvious safe bet.

It amazes me that the corporate officers and employees at Dataplay couldn’t see what a longshot their idea was in the first place. Bascially what they were selling was a new audio/storage format that replaces what people are already using. The graveyard full of dead media formats is evidence of how much real incentive the average person needs to move to something new. Only cassettes and CDs have been successful in the audio arena, with minidisc and DAT having some niche success. It took Sony nearly 5 years to gain minidisc any sort of real presence in the US market, for Pete’s sake. And that was only after it had pretty well established the format in Japan.

And right now the major electronics companies are trying to sell us on two new (mutuall incompatible) super hi-fi audio disc formats (DVD-Audio and SuperCD) — and there’s no strong indicator that they’ll survive, despite having much higher fidelity than Dataplay could muster.

Did Dataplay really think people would blow $300 on a new player and $10 – $25 on discs just to get the same old music with a few dumb extras? Shit, I got dumb extras on the Iron Maiden CDs I bought this weekend, and I didn’t have to pay anything extra.






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