Alley startup SpiralFrog drew plenty of attention when it announced plans a year ago to create a free, ad-supported music download site. It had Universal Music Group, the biggest label in the world, signed on, and was going to launch by the end of ’06. SpiralFrog missed that deadline, but told Forbes’ Lou Hau they’d be ready to go by the end of January.
That was the last we’ve heard of them, and industry buzz has pronounced the project dead. But now they appear to be popping up yet again, offering an invite-only Beta (MarketingShift.com took a spin but couldn’t get it to work). We hear they might launch next month.
Or maybe not. Spokeswoman Jocelyn Johnson confirms the company is indeed extant, but won’t offer up a new target date: “It’s early days.”
We’ll reserve judgment till we see and hear more, but based on what we know, SpiralFrog will be dead on arrival whether or not it officially goes live. The company has signed a handful of labels since the Universal announcement, but is still missing the remaining big three, who have moved on to other new distribution schemes like iMeem. SpiralFrog’s site says it has 700,000 tracks available, or less than 20% of iTunes’ 5 million.
The bigger question, moreover, is whether listeners will embrace anything like the scheme SpiralFrog announced last year: The music will be locked in a Microsoft Windows Media format and tethered to a PC, which means no iPod compatability. If that doesn’t turn you off immediately, you’ll still need to remember to head to the SpiralFrog site once a month to renew your free subscription, which is where the ads come in.
Leaving aside the annoyance of this requirement, there are countless ways to get music to your PC and/or iPod that are much easier. Many of them legal and a few are already free: Napster, for instance, offers no-cost on-demand streaming from its Napster.com site. If SpiralFrog wants to compete in this sector, it’s going to have to offer a compelling alternative. If it actually launches, that is.