SpiralFrog: Free Music Model Will Only Cost You Your Brain Cells – by Rebecca Barkin

“Spam” is a great word. Not only is it an acronym for unsolicited advertising mail, but it actually sounds like a slap across the face. Like a comic book, the word belongs in a text bubble right above my head as yet another unwelcome ad passes in front of my eyes. Pow. Bam. Spam. Got me again.

Evolving into a concept more than literal “mail,” Spam tags along with us to work, to the grocery store, and absorbs a good bit of our time at home assuming you’ve got a computer, a television, or a mailman. Granted, we choose the stations we watch and listen to, as well as the websites we visit, so to a certain degree our Spam is tailored.

If I read my horoscope everyday, for example, I might see an ad from the latest manufacturer to attempt stain-free deodorant for women (which despite all of the world’s advancements, has never been effectively accomplished). Well-targeted. Am I interested? Yes, but not when it interferes with my Moonology report, which I’ve got 10 seconds to read before my next meeting.

If you’re into music and its slow crawl into the digital era, you may have noticed the emergence of SpiralFrog, a new Digital Service Provider that is poised for rivalry with iTunes. SpiralFrog differentiates itself from other music sites by existing as an entirely ad-supported service, making the service “free” for consumers. At last, what was once thievery is actually legal, provided you use your brain cells as currency.

Universal Music recently teamed up with the techies to offer their mammoth library of popular music in support of this new concept. SpiralFrog hopes other labels will follow suit.

However, if you’re spam protection is on high, and your patience is low, be aware that SpiralFrog will likely crush your initial enthusiasm for free Neil Diamond downloads with an obligatory 90 second block of advertisements.

Being that the site plans to launch in December of 2006, it is unclear how often one will have to endure the block of ads during the downloading process. Nor is it clear whether the ads you see will be effected by the genre of music or artists that you choose to download (i.e. hit up the Neil Youngers with Prius Ads and the 36 Mafia roughneckers with Hummer Ads). I’ve also wondered if the download process will be “slowed” to accommodate more advertising.

When considering if this new format will work with consumers, I thought about what most Americans value most: time and money.

Time, or convenience, is about getting what you want when you want it, quickly and without hassle. Spam, which is essentially what you are forced to sit through while downloading SpiralFrog content is not at all convenient, it’s annoying, and it’s a part of the model that most people will likely leave the room for, rendering it ineffective. On iTunes or Rhapsody, I decide that I like a song, and click. 20 seconds later, I can upload it to my iPod. No ads, no fuss and I can still afford lunch.

On the other hand, assuming inconvenience is a fair trade for “free,” consider that most people that are insistent on downloading free of charge have already found their process, and it doesn’t involve be subjected to advertising. Why would they switch?

If the idea is to convert the delinquents to legal downloading, you’re efforts are better spent trying to sell them a conscience. These people enjoy getting over on the system and they love cracking codes. It’s a challenge, not an act that sends them shuffling sorely to Confession. Furthermore, these thieves are not stealing because they are poverty stricken; this is not a desperate question of rice vs. a classic Rolling Stones cut. People stealing out of necessity likely don’t have computers and MP3 players to download to.

I would argue that those that are buying 10 and 20 songs a month on iTunes like being part of a community that supports their favorite artists with a seemingly direct contribution. Don’t underestimate the personal satisfaction that comes with identifying something that you want to own, and purchasing it. It’s capitalism, it’s freedom, it’s credit card debt, but it is what this country is about.

I would assume that the target audience for 90 seconds of advertising is those that want (and are able) to pay for the things that they like? If we present advertisements for items that are not free to a population that has identified “free” as the most important factor in the services they choose, haven’t we missed the point?

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