posted on September 25, 2007 05:19
In recent months there has been growing talk of services that would allow music fans to download legal MP3s for free, thanks to the support of ads. While a number of services are already seeing the light of day the bad news is that not all of them can be used by music fans outside of the USA or Canada. More ...
Take Spiral Frog. Launched last week (6 months after they originally planned) they describe themselves as a "Web-based, ad-supported music experience, combining music discovery with the free acquisition of audio and music video files". Right. Boiling it down to brass tacks, they currently have 800,000 tracks licensed from Universal Music and several independent labels that you can download for free, all supported by ads. Unfortunately though if you're based outside the US or Canada you can't sign up for their service so I haven't been able to check how intrusive their ads are. The word however is that users will have to put up with a 90 second advert before a track can be downloaded (advertisers signed up include Chevrolet, Colgate and Burger King). That translates to about 15 minutes of ads if you want to download a 10 track album… As of yet there's no indication if an advertisement will also be embedded into each file.
We7.com on the other hand offers a similar service but a) they allow music fans outside North America to sign up for their service and b) you do not have to watch an ad before being allowed to download a track. Instead up to 10 seconds of an ad is embedded at the start of the MP3. Launched last April, WE7 has Peter Gabriel behind it and V2 records are on board. I gave it a test run and it does pretty much what it says on the tin. It looks like they haven't yet filled their ad inventory as tracks I downloaded had a short generic WE7 ad 'grafted' onto the beginning of the MP3 (192 kbs bit rate BTW), but then again they are still in Beta. Whether a short embedded ad that you will hear each time the track is played is going to be considered intrusive is really an individual call. No doubt though it'll only be a matter of time before some code monkey comes up with a separate tool that automatically cuts the 10 seconds of an ad out of your MP3s.
QTrax, another ad-supported MP3 service, is due to launch later this year. They say they will give users legal access to 25 million tracks and do so using peer to peer technologies. No idea yet how they plan to integrate ads into their service, but considering it will be using P2P technolgies I guess the most likely scenario is that it has to be ads embedded in each MP3 file.
Do these sort of services have a future? Impossible to say with the sands shifting as music industry tries to find its digital feet. But it is encouraging to see - at long last - major labels embrace services that are free both in terms of cost and Digital Rights Management.