SpiralFrog Offers Free Music -- For A Price - InformationWeek

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Commentary
9/18/2007
02:29 PM
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SpiralFrog Offers Free Music -- For A Price

The iTunes model of moving individual music and video files to users in return for small fees has become hard to beat. There's a new contender, however: SpiralFrog, which offers media downloads free of charge -- but with several strings attached.

The iTunes model of moving individual music and video files to users in return for small fees has become hard to beat. There's a new contender, however: SpiralFrog, which offers media downloads free of charge -- but with several strings attached.According to press accounts, SpiralFrog's intended audience are those 20-somethings who have the time and inclination to spend a lot of time on the site researching music -- and, in the meantime, viewing advertising. In return, it offers what looks like a fairly wide range of free downloads from the Universal Music Group. So far, so good -- using advertising to replace consumer fees is a long and honorable capitalist practice, popularly accepted since the first ad ran on the first radio show.

There are other things to keep in mind, though. For example, in order to use the service, you have to install a Download Manager. Not something I prefer to do -- I like to keep my system as clean as possible -- but also, not all that unusual. And you will have to wait 90 seconds each time you download a tune so you can get your fill of advertising. Well, OK, that is what multiple-tabbed browsers are for.

But wait, there's more -- and that "more" may be enough to stop quite a few would-be music downloaders in their tracks.

First, this is a Windows-only service. I'm not sure why SpiralFrog's creators decided to bypass the many potential users who own Macs -- or the very many music lovers who own iPods -- but there it is. (We won't even mention Linux -- perhaps SpiralFrog's Powers That Be decided that anyone cheap enough to use a free OS probably won't attract advertisers anyway.) Then there's the fact that SpiralFrog uses DRM to regulate use of its content, and won't let users burn downloaded music to a CD -- PCS or media players only, if you please.

And then there's the monthly registration.

This is where SpiralFrog's users will pay heavily. Once registered, you have to re-register each month to keep using the service. This process will not simply involve deciphering an image-based set of characters to make sure you're a human being, or having SpiralFrog send you an e-mail to make sure you're still around and interested. It also will involve answering "some questions about yourself" -- questions that, according to the site's FAQ, will be used to aggregate marketing information to increase advertising revenue.

You don't want to re-register? Your choice -- but 31 days later, you will no longer be able to download music, and 61 days later, any songs and videos you've already downloaded will no longer play. (Remember the DRM?)

It will be interesting to see how far SpiralFrog users will allow themselves to be pushed when it comes to the reregistration process. It won't only be a royal pain in the butt -- registration is bothersome at the best of times, and monthly registration will be a major irritant -- but users will be essentially blackmailed into regularly filling out marketing questionnaires. And what if there are questions that you'd rather not answer? Having to do with, oh, say, how much you spend on entertainment? Or what books you like to read? Or what languages you speak? Or what causes you espouse? (Not so far-fetched -- information like that can influence what bands are promoted on the site, and which advertisers are approached.)

I'm sure there are plenty of folks out there who will accept that this is an appropriate way for "providing the content creators with more cash for the songs and videos that you get to download at no cost." It's to SpiralFrog's credit that it is so upfront about its dependence on advertising, and the various ways it will ensure that its advertisers are satisfied that their products are being seen by consumers.

The main question is, though: How many consumers will be satisfied to jump through that many hoops in order to get their free music downloads? Enough to keep SpiralFrog alive? To make this marketing strategy successful? It's possible -- but I have my doubts.

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