My laptop doesn't have a CD-ROM drive. Like many owners of smaller notebooks, I don't see the value of having that piece built into my computer as I would rather save the space and have a lighter and smaller machine. As netbooks become more and more popular and the rumored tablet becomes a reality (either from Apple or other manufacturers), larger computers with built-in CD-ROM drives will be less and less common.
Despite this shift, most content you can purchase today is only offered in two forms of distribution. You can either download something off the web, or you can buy a physical disk of music or a dvd or a CD-ROM disc of software to run on your computer. With downloadable content in particular, you need to decide the night before if you want to download an entire movie to my portable media device or laptop, and also need to make sure you have enough hard drive capacity to store all the huge files you need to download. What if you cannot rely on a fast consistent web connection and you don't have a CD-ROM drive in your computer? This is the single biggest missed opportunity of the content distribution universe – selling content to a captive audience in a way that they are able to use.
Taking my own example, the moment when I have the most time to get content like this is at an airport. Getting ready for a 14 hour flight to Sydney last year was the first moment when I started thinking a potential solution to this problem – and landed on the one thing that all laptops have – a USB drive. What if I could buy content that I wanted to watch or listen to on a USB stick and simply plug it into my computer?
Rather than a disk, I would happily pay a bit extra to simply get a USB stick with the movie on it to watch. Or use an interface in a store to select a combination of music, videos, and any other kind of content to download onto a custom created stick that I could take with me. In fact, this could even be a kiosk. Choose your content, get it written to a stick and take it with you.
From a marketing point of view, this stick could be branded, the videos could include embedded advertising and the stick itself could also include marketing materials such as PDFs or product videos. These sticks could even include some form of copyright protection so that the content providers would not have a barrier to making their content available in this format. What do you think? Could a store that offered content to purchase on USB sticks ever work? As someone who will probably never again have a portable computer with a CD-ROM drive, I certainly hope so.