So Universal has teamed up with SpiralFrog on a subscription service with a twist; the service is now out of beta and officially launched. SpiralFrog is unique among subscription services in that it’s subscription-less (at least for now). No monthly fee is required, the site is intended to be funded solely by advertising and your recurring visits:
“The only catch — the music is supported by the site’s advertising revenues, so your clicks keep those tracks downloading.”
Even though there is no monthly fee, make no mistake that this is still a subscription service, and therefore has the five disadvantages all subscription services have had so far:
1) Requires recurring activity.
“You must sign up for a free account and provide demographic information in order to gain access to the media. You must also use your account each month in order to keep it active, which is intended to prevent users from simply downloading and not returning to the site.”
Keeping your account “active” is code-speak for them shutting off your music if you don’t use it every month. What constitutes “use” of your account? Not sure. Clearly all tracks and videos are DRMed so they can shut them off whenever they want.
2) Limited content.
“The site… currently carries about 800,000 tracks and 3,500 music videos”
“The site intends to have over 2 million tracks available within the next several months.”
With Universal on board they ought to be able to scrounge up more than 800K for starters. Heck, Apple has almost that many songs available for just ringtones! Two million tracks in the next several months? What the heck is the matter with Universal when — even under excruciating DRM terms — they still won’t open up their library?
3) Risk of losing the music.
Of course you lose your downloaded music if you don’t use the site every month, but that may be your own choice. However, what if their advertising-only model fails (it will), or they begin charging monthly fees (which they’ll do when the ad model won’t fully support them)? If they go belly up you’ll lose everything. If they charge, and all you cared about was “free”, then you’ll lose everything, too. Good luck thinking you’ll have any recourse when any of this happens.
4) Strict Controls.
“Files from SpiralFrog are digitally protected and can be played on mp3 players, but cannot be burned to CDs.”
They are DRMed to a very high degree. Just a reminder that you don’t own these, you’re simply renting them under strict terms. The TOS specifies only three devices are allowed. Since your PC and MP3 player are two of those devices there’s not a whole lot of freedom to play them elsewhere. Compare this to Apple’s five PCs and unlimited iPods approach.
5) Incompatibility with the iPod.
“There is another minor detail, though — the files cannot be played on Apple’s wildly popular iPod MP3 players.”
Well, of course not. The highly restrictive DRM these subscription models use is not on the iPod, and I hope it never is. This is Microsoft’s DRM; note that SpiralFrog’s web site requires Windows Media Player 11. This service will land you knee-deep in the wonderful world of a Microsoft DRM that kow tows to the content providers and leaves little in the way of rights for the user.
Music subscription services have always failed because the vast majority of people want to own their music. The only thing truly unique about this one is that it could be argued you get what you pay for. Even then I think it’s a bad deal.