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Flash drives the new vinyl?

Some record companies are experimenting with distributing albums on the portable USB devices, but for now the releases are mostly expensive collectors' items.

The White Stripes

I doubt it will replace the CD anytime soon, but some record labels are experimenting with distributing music on portable USB flash drives. The latest in this occasional trend is The White Stripes, whose Icky Thump album is available in both traditional CD form as well as in a limited edition USB thumb drive format.

Now, the flash drive version sells for $57, well more than the $15 price tag of the CD. That means that only die-hard fans will likely buy the drive versions, which depict the band's Jack White and Meg White as Russian dolls. (Those who need both Jack and Meg will have to shell out $99.)

There have been other releases, such as the recent 30th anniversary Bob Marley Exodus album. The Barenaked Ladies released a couple of albums in this format a couple of years back.

While flash drives have come down in price, simply releasing the same album on a flash drive is likely to be more a novelty than anything else. That said, the portable drives do have some appeal for other uses, such as a home for a take-home version of a concert, something many acts have started offering.

Nine Inch Nails also used the drives as part of an interactive game. That seems to be a step in the right direction. In an age of easy piracy, it makes sense for bands to use technology to connect with their fans as well.

And, while it's unlikely to do much to curb piracy, if one of the White Stripes is sticking out of your USB drive, you might think twice about pirating to get their next album.

Earlier today, I appeared on WNYC's Soundcheck to talk about the topic. You can find the audio clip here.