The New York Times reported last week that Universal Music Group, the largest of the four major labels, has reached an agreement to allow its entire catalog to be available as free downloads on Spiral Frog. Now what is this Spiral Frog? No, it's not the name of that crappy, shrooming hippy jam band that's playing your college's next battle of the bands. It's the name of a new company that plans to offer free DRM-encrypted downloads that come with some advertisement to support the site. Why they went with that name, no one's quite sure.
So, how about some specifics, numb nuts? I was just getting there. From the looks of things, it seems that the Frog will be premiering in December, only about two-and-a-half months after this frog kicks the bucket. The DRM (digital rights management) will be an extremely limiting factor for music fans, as it will not allow users to put downloaded songs on iPods or Microsoft's Zune player either. Not exactly the smartest move if you want to capture a large audience, since Apple has managed to sell more than 10 million iPods so far this year alone. I suppose you could hijack the audio if you really wanted to or, more likely, just go download the song from a P2P network.
The advertisements could also be a limiting factor for Spiral Frog; necessary for revenue but if too obtrusive, the site will never take off and music fans will keep with their P2P servers. Similarly, if Spiral Frog is at all difficult to navigate, it will unlikely draw people away from the file-sharing networks they have grown to know and love oh-so-dearly (lord knows I do).
Robin Kent, CEO of Spiral Frog, does have some pretty cool ideas to go with his site, too. There will be MySpace-esque pages to accompany downloads that will offer tour info, photos, lyrics, and suggestions for similarly sounding bands. I'm going to guess that these pages will not be as personal and open to editing as MySpace, but it's still nice to have all that information right there. Some kind of wiki aspect would be a good addition to the site (really, who doesn't think this link shouldn't be posted on Three 6 Mafia's page?). All in all, Spiral Frog looks like it will be an interesting experiment and compliment to the iTunes Music Store and other legitimate online music retailers.