SpiralFrog Misses the Point of Digital Music

    by Mark Glaser
    August 31, 2006

    First, let’s congratulate the traditional music-on-wax industry for trying something new in digital music — outside of suing its customers. The largest of the music companies, Universal Music Group, announced it would offer free music downloads through a startup called SpiralFrog supported by advertising. The other big music companies are negotiating with SpiralFrog, too. Clap, clap, clap.

    But before you hurt your hands with all that applause, you might want to look at the fine print of this deal. According to the New York Times and bloggers covering the story, there are some “gotchas” with the free SpiralFrog service, due to launch in December:

    + You must listen to a 90-second audio commercial for every tune you download.


    + Your music will be in the protected WMA format, not playable on iPods.

    + You will not be able to burn a CD with the music, but can listen to songs on a limited number of computers or MP3 players.

    + You will have to return to the SpiralFrog site to view ads each month or your downloaded songs will expire.


    There have been music services such as Napster and Rhapsody that offer free unlimited listening for monthly subscription fees. And now Napster is offering some free streaming music with advertising. The Times reports that peer-to-peer music site Kazaa will relaunch with a similar business model to SpiralFrog’s — free music supported by ads.

    But with all those restrictions listed above, who will bother to listen and watch so many ads just for a song on their MP3 player? That remains to be seen. The announcement of the Universal/SpiralFrog deal set off a media frenzy, and numerous TV reports probably oversimplified the situation: Get free music just for watching an ad!

    Bloggers were less impressed. Ted Samson at InfoWorld Tech Watch wrote that “There are right ways to use ad revenue to provide free goods and services, and there are wrong ways.” He thinks people won’t want to go through the hassle at SpiralFrog for free music when there’s already so much cheap or free music at MySpace band pages or Napster or Yahoo Music.

    At the Digital Music Weblog, Grant Robertson wonders if musicians will get royalty payments on this free music. One commenter on that blog ran down the reasons that SpiralFrog would go out of business in a year:

    Problem #1: There’s no way in hell I want to listen to a minute and a half advertisement before listening to my music. The trend with TiVo, satellite radio, and others is that people want to SKIP THE COMMERCIALS! Free or not!

    Problem #2: The file expires after 6 months. So why would I waste the time downloading music from this service if in 6 months I’m going to have to redownload the songs I like all over again?

    Problem #3: It won’t burn to CD.

    The recording industry is trying a bunch of things to see what will stick in this digital age but I can tell you one thing, this is more trouble than it’s worth and won’t put one dent in [peer-to-peer music sharing]. Really, is the music industry full of morons who think that making it harder for their customers is a good business model?

    So on the consumer side, SpiralFrog has a problem convincing people to go through all this trouble to get free music. On the business side, it also has the problem of trying to get enough advertising money to support itself and the big payments it makes to the record labels. MarketingShift’s John Gartner has serious doubts about that.

    “Allowing music to be downloaded for free is nuts,” Gartner writes. “Yes, the International Federation of Phonographic Industries says there are 40 illegal downloads for every legal one. But getting a penny or two to advertise to the few who aren’t already illegally downloading music will be a big money loser…Perhaps SpiralFrog will limit the free downloads to less popular tracks, and in that case nobody will use the service. This service will have a lifespan much shorter than your average leopard frog (5-8 years).”

    Ouch. One thing in SpiralFrog’s favor is that its service doesn’t exist yet, so there’s still time to tweak the business model and figure out how to satisfy listeners while also bringing in enough advertising money. More than anything, though, this free-stuff-for-watching-ads model has been tried before in the dot-com boom, and there’s a good reason those companies went bust — the business models didn’t work.

    What do you think? Would you try out SpiralFrog or is the service asking too much from you? What type of digital music service would you prefer? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Tagged: downloading music
    • Anonomous

      You have it wrong…on many accounts… The download takes :90 secs..but you don’t have to be fixated watching ads. There’s going to be a deep library of music and entertaiment content..videos to watch, etc.

    • OK, true enough, you don’t have to listen to the ads while they play. What are the other “many accounts” that are wrong? I’m open to fix them, if you can give me official word from SpiralFrog…

    • Muttley

      Is there anything preventing me to convert from WMA to some other format, such as MP3 or OGG?

      If not, I could download the file, convert it, and then do whatever I want with it: burn it on CD, keep it indefinitely, etc.

    • Dave B

      Want a copy? You can record anything you want on your computer using a program like Cakewalk Pyro, which does the digital equivalent of “taping” a song as it plays. Then you can convert it to another format, burn it, whatever. This isn’t as convenient as drag-and-drop – you have to sit through the entire song (gasp!) – but my daughter has digitally “taped” songs from online videos, so I’m sure the same would be possible here.

    • “digital taping” loses quality on a significant scale: doing this procedure multiple times makes it even worse.

      the visual equivalent would be to open a JPG, and then re-save it as a JPG a few times. It ends up looking horribly jaggy.

    • Muttley

      But you don’t need to re-tape “multiple times”: do it once, and you can throw away the source.

      Interestingly enough, today the MS-owned cnet.com carried an article on WMA’s DRM having been broken by a japanese hacker. Now, if this doesn’t spell doom for Spiralfrog…

    • MS-owned CNET? Anyway, it’s true that hackers have figured out how to strip away the digital rights management on Apple and Microsoft music protections:


      But keep in mind that the vast majority of people will not go through all that to get rid of DRM.

    • I’m still waiting to hear the “many accounts” as well… Personally 90 secs. of advertising before content means I’m going somewhere else on the web. Remember the target market – we want our music (NOW!) and have short attention spans.

      But good luck with the VC money…done in 6 months. Ribbit!

    • VC’s…”who needs them” – rants the funky toad! With major labels fotting the bill, perhaps SprialFrog’s target market is not us music lovers afterall – it’s the Big Music Companies! They’ll enjoy watching us debate our download strategies from here to Japan while they count their ad revenue.

      However even those friends in big corporations eventually will demand results and downloads from unique visitors. I still say it’s a 6 month venture…Ribbit!

    • blink

      With downloaded files so contaminated with commercialism, my biggest concern is privacy.

      Is there anyway to tell from the fine print what kind of data is collected from you and exploited based on your music taste?

    • charles

      The business model is made extra tough by the majors with their demands for up-front payments. The estimate of lifespan might be rather shorter if it is true that they are spending most of the funds raised on label advances.

      Mind you if they can make money from press coverage of their company – now that’s a good idea…

      “Industry sources said that Spiral Frog had committed a decent chunk of its initial $10m equity backing, provided by two undisclosed London hedge funds, to secure its licence from Universal.

      One person familiar with the licensing negotiations said: It seems daft to use your VC (venture capitalist) money to pay millions of dollars to the major record companies. Sony BMG, Warner and EMI will be expecting the same or similar upfront fee.”

      (Sunday Times, UK 3 Sep 2006)

    • Nick Clark

      If SpiralFrog gets this right, it could be a seismic event in music dispersal but there have been many false dawns in this field.

      There will always be a market for sites like Napster 2.0, iTunes etc, where you simply click to buy as people want the immediacy, simplicity and permanent ownership this provides, especially in light of the suggested advert times (90 seconds of waiting whilst an ad plays?!). It may force the pay-per-download websites to innovate more, working with artists to create exclusive downloads etc. to entice buyers.

      Or perhaps SpiralFrog will attempt to leverage the advertising component in to a subscription service (i.e. pay more for an ad-free service) offering another route to subscription conversions? It will be interesting to see how this plays out…

    • Muttley

      ok, I might have been mistaken about CNET’s ownership… :D

    • The problem is the music industry is they are way too disconnected with the new generation of internet-savvy “kids”. They need to get on board with their lifestyle – music needs to be at their fingertips and free…

      So instead of trying to squeeze every cent out of the selling of a song, maybe they should find other avenues of profit (more concerts, better merch, ad space on music related websites…)

      It’s a long way off, but let’s get realistic, there’s better ways to make a buck then by make your “customers” listen to a 90 second commercial!

    • I was just browsing and i found your website,

      I am also curious to what may be happening when spiralfrog is launched.

      I managed to aquire the following domains when i heard the news,
      Please let me know what you think?




    • I will never participate in a music sharing system that gives me DRM’d music. I’ll preferably get truly Free music on sites like http://www.jamendo.com and http://www.ccmixter.org under a Creative Commons license. I’ll download podcasts and use P2P systems like Soulseek to download music, even if it’s illegal (though I prefer supporting and promoting the artists who avoid criminalizing their fans by giving permission to download). But I will never download music that is defective by design (see http://www.defectivebydesign.org for the whys).

    • Bailey

      I honestly can’t believe you people. Well, I don’t want to anyway. I am so depressed by the degeneration of my generation – today’s youth. Ninety seconds??! That’s nothing! I think SpiralFrog has a good idea, and if it helps to teach patience to youth, I’m all for it. And – here is where I get to laugh at the rest of you – ipod is silly anyway, Creative is so much cooler. I will be very content listening to my free SpiralFrog music on my Zen Vision: M.

    • Andrew

      Zaziggy.com already has a site up that’s not regulating the type of music files. The ads are small and not lengthy. The musicians are independent but they’re filtering artists so there is talent on the site. It’s not a huge lineup but they’re growing steadily.

    • JP

      I’d never pay for any compressed audio files, DRM or no. An mp3 is missing about 70% of the info compared to a cd track, they’re fine for a car where road noise covers the fact that it sounds crappy, but not for anyone of dicriminating taste listening at home or with headphones. WMA is even worse in my opinion because it is a “Windows” file.
      I think however Spiralfrog does have a legitimate place in that you can listen to songs from an album before you decide to buy the cd, which was my major complaint (other than outrageous price, more than a dvd) about buying legal cds.

    • a hagley

      The major flaws in the SpiralFrog model for me are twofold,
      1) DRM – can’t play on my media streamer, even though it’s “plays-for-sure” certified

      2) DRM – if SpiralFrog goes under, all the tracks that I have spent a lot of time downloading quickly (in 30 days) become useles.

      I would rather pay a reasonable amount at somewhere like allofmp3.com or mp3sparks and have a file that I can backup, burn and play.

      If the recording industry really wants to control the music, then develop personal licences that allow an individual to play any track on any device that they own

    • Charlie

      I’ve been trying to like SprialFrog… I want to be able to find songs I like (or whole albums if needed) and get the songs easily and quickly. I want to make cd’s of my favorites…. While I am working away at my computer, I like it fine. What I want to do is burn the songs to a cd, but that is not easy without (probably illegal) converters. It doesn’t seem worth the hassle. I don’t have a problem paying for each song I like with iTunes… I’ll likely just use that.

    • alexcoco

      U could just download an audio recorder software, and play the song and click record on the audio recorders and play the song, its excellent quality and free if u search on download.com or some othe place

    • Julian

      I can’t see this working. As for the person who commented on how 90 seconds is nothing, what that person needs to realize is that the average person has hundreds of songs. now lets take that measly 90 seconds and do that 300 times, thats 7.5 hours of wait time… Thats a lot of time. Thats not even mentioning how the songs expire, i honestly don’t want to have to re-download 100s of songs. Finally with Ipods controlling the majority of the industry… this is doomed to failure.

    • Drew

      You can download softwear for free to unprotect your music. So when you download it off the site you can change the format to mp3 and put it on your ipod so it wont expire

    • Chill

      Spirafrog is awful!! I do not recommend it. And it doesnt take 90 minutes to download a song, their server is so slow even if you have a high speed connection, you have to keep refreshing the page so many times. And all of that trouble for what, so you have to redownload everything when your license expires.

    • iTunes SUCKS

      i love SpiralFrog it work good but big brother like iTunes and others want you to pay for song they did not write or sing!!! WHERE IS FREEDOM ????

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