SpiralFrog.com, an ad-supported Web site that allows registered users to download music and videos for free, officially opened for business this week. The ads pay for the music; SpiralFrog cuts the record companies in for a piece of the action. "We believe it will be a very powerful alternative to the pirate sites," SpiralFrog chairman and co-founder Joe Mohen told the Associated Press.
Sorry Joe, but I disagree. This would-be iTunes Store killer will die a slow and lonely death. It's bound and gagged by so many restrictions - no doubt added at the request of paranoid music company executives - that no one will want to use it, free or not. (Side note: most of SpiralFrog's content at launch is from Vivendi's Universal Music Group, which recently tussled with Apple over pricing at the iTunes Store. Hmmm.)
To get permission from the record companies to offer free downloads, SpiralFrog had to agree to use digital rights management (DRM), and it chose Microsoft's Windows Media format, Windows Media Audio. As Apple loyalists well know, WMA files with DRM can't be played on Macs - or on iPods. They could afford to ignore Mac users, but iPod users comprise over 70 percent of the portable music player market. Geez, SpiralFrog's songs won't even play on Microsoft's pathetic Zune.
Beyond the DRM issues, SpiralFrog has chained up its content in other ways. Users not only must register to download any digital content, but also need to re-register every month or the files will lock up and won't play. Think you can work around these problems by burning the songs to a CD? Think again. CD burning of SpiralFrog content is not allowed, either.
Very few music consumers are likely to kiss this frog. Odds are SpiralFrog will be tucked away in a jar of formaldehyde by this time next year.