The new Guardians of the Galaxy movie is opening soon, and I’m looking forward to it. And the merchandising people are, too. As big a deal was made out of the first movie’s feel-good seventies-and-eighties-music mixtape/soundtrack, it’s not at all surprising that the soundtrack for the second movie was also a big thing well before the next movie hit the theater. But it is a little surprising, not to mention amusing, how cheap disposable MP3 player technology is suddenly playing into this.

There’s nothing mysterious or magical about MP3 players. In fact, thanks to dedicated systems on a chip built just for that purpose, they’re probably one of the cheapest gadgets it’s possible to make these days. And that might be what possessed Doritos to put one in a bag of corn chips. (So, the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 soundtrack really is “all that and a bag of chips”!)

That’s right, for just $30 you too could have a bag of chips you could crunch through while listening to songs by Fleetwood Mac, Cheap Trick, and Sam Cooke on a cheap circuit board MP3 player with a rechargeable cell phone battery, 256 MB SD card, and USB plug. (Well, you could have it for about a day until they sold out, anyway. Given that it was effectively a collector’s edition publicity stunt, don’t expect them to be in stock ever again. But they’re going for big bucks on eBay!)

Something a bit less disposable is this cheap plastic replica of a Walkman which also has an MP3 player built in. Apparently it only has room for one song, though. Which makes its $25 cost most places…not all that cheap, really. You’d be better off getting one of these 19 cent mp3 players, a $3.25 256 MB SD card, and the $9.38 soundtrack CD from Amazon (which comes with instantly downloadable MP3s for free), even when you throw in $6 or so of shipping costs for the cheaper items.

This may seem a bit off-topic for an ebook blog, but the point I’m working around to is that we make a big deal out of cheap ebook readers, but an audiobook player could be made substantially cheaper than anything that has to have a screen. Just look at those 19 cent players I mentioned above, for example—the shipping costs over 10 times as much as the player itself. But someone wanting to go into mass distribution could probably order players like those from a Chinese OEM in lots of several thousand for less than the cost of a good steak dinner. It might not be very durable, but if it’s mainly going to be used for playing a single audiobook once or twice it doesn’t really have to be.

Granted, cheap audiobooks might not be as good for literacy as something people actually have to read themselves, but it could be a way to expose people to your book very cheaply. A 256 MB chip would hold about 4 hours of music at 128 kilobits, but audiobooks could lower the bit rate for longer play times without sounding too terrible.

Or you could bundle MP3 players and audiobooks into everyday items—and not just something like a $30 bag of chips, either. Bundle a romance novel into a box of chocolates, or a mystery story into a jigsaw puzzle. And unlike that bag of chips, the bundled player could be fully reusable, making the purchase of the item itself even more of a bargain.

Of course, MP3 audiobook players aren’t exactly anything new. They’ve been in airports and truck stops for over ten years, serving the needs of air travelers or long haul truckers who want something to listen to while the miles roll by. But those cost on the order of $100 each new, though you can sometimes find them for $20 used on Amazon. The audiobooks themselves aren’t free, of course—but when you can buy audiobooks on Audible for $20 or $30, it seems like there should be a lot of wiggle room for producing a player more cheaply.

And it might be that this could be a better promotional tactic for independent publishers and self-publishing writers who produce their audiobooks outside of major publisher control so have more choices about what to do with them. You’re probably not going to be able to play a DRM-encumbered Audible book on a 19-cent player—or even an iPod or other major-brand MP3 player—so it would have to be made available DRM-free, which most major publishers probably wouldn’t want to do.

With the technology available so cheaply, it seems like there should be a way to take advantage of it. Why let movie promoters and corn chip manufacturers have all the fun?

In any event, I’m enjoying listening to the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 mixtape right now via a streaming music service. The album itself isn’t on Google Play Music yet, but the one unique song from it is, which means the soundtrack can easily be recreated as a playlist without any additional money needing to change hands—Doritos not required.

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