[Lopy notes: Spiral Frog finally launched, and we finally reviewed it]
Free legal downloads!! From a major label, no less. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? It’s supposed to be a reality, as a site called Spiral Frog has contracted with Universal Music to provide free downloads starting in December.
Of course, there is a catch — you are going to have to deal with advertising while you download. Here’s how they describe it:
The company’s research revealed that consumers are more than willing to ‘pay’ for their content by watching non-intrusive, contextually-relevant, targeted advertising in an online entertainment environment where advertising is already part of the overall experience.
Well sure, if you put it that way. Makes it seem like ads and content are just good buddies, hanging out together on the happy sunshine website! First of all, “non-intrusive advertising” is an oxymoron. If advertising isn’t intrusive, then it really isn’t doing its job, is it? We don’t necessarily like advertising, but we all understand the purpose. So spare us the bollocks.
So, yeah, I’m willing to ‘pay’ for something that is supported by advertising — depending on how that advertising is delivered. There is, for example, a huge difference between banner ads and pop-ups. The former is a necessary evil and the latter is just an evil. So that willingness ebbs and flows depending on how that advertising is going to be part of the overall user experience.
For example: if I download the next U2 album through this Spiral Frog, will I have to watch a single advertisment prior to downloading, or will I have to watch an ad per song? And forget U2, what if it’s one of those Kanye West albums with all of the skits?
That would be 20 some-odd ads per album, and if you had to wait for the ads prior to downloading a track — much in the way we used to experience television ads in the pre-videotape days — it could add a significant amount of time to the experience. Too much time.
Of course, they could also take the honorable route and stream the ads at the same time you are downloading the songs (bathroom break!!), and probably Universal and Spiral Frog aren’t really seeing this as an album-oriented service, but more as a track-by-track service.
And my guess is that people will be willing to sit through the occasional ad to download the occasional free song.
There’s that word again. Free. (Who hasn’t considered naming their band Free Beer! just to get people to come see them?) It’s a tricky word, because there’s “free” in terms of what you pay, and then there is free in terms of what you can do with the music.
Digital rights management technology is built-in to all audio and video content as part of measures the company and its partners are actively taking to address piracy.
So sure, that song might not cost you anything, but the actual uses to which you can put a track you download might be so limiting that it doesn’t gain you anything either. Sometimes it’s better to pay for something to have some measure of control over it. Which is why, around here, we like eMusic.
I think that one of the reasons that iTunes is so popular is that they made their technology proprietary enough to satisfy the record companies (and create a feedback loop with the iPod) but also gave “information wants to be free” music freaks like me a back door to make unfettered .mp3s to put in our myriad other music players. Win-win.
It’s unclear at this point what kind of DRM scheme that Spiral Frog is going to use. My guess, however, is that I won’t be able to take a track that I download and do whatever in the hell I want to with it. Like I’ve been able to do with all of the vinyl albums I’ve bought; all of the CDs I’ve bought and all of the songs I’ve purchased from eMusic.
If my guess is true, then they really won’t be any better than the new Napster, who also allows you to listen to music FREE, except that there won’t a limit in terms of times you can listen to a song in the tiny place where they allow you to listen to it.
Which means that I probably won’t be using their service.