Free Music

All I want for Christmas[1] is free music for my iPod!

There's a lot of talk about free video for cell phones and location sensitive ads, but what I (and millions of others) want is unlimited free music for their portable players.

Rhapsody To Go and Napster To Go do the right thing by letting folks fill up their portable players with all they want and change it whenever they like.

Trouble is those services make people pay. People hate paying. Especially for portable music. Radio has conditioned us to expect music for free and so we resent it when there is a monthly charge. Pandora knows this, but they need a broadband connection for listening (which is a cell phone company play but not interesting here).

Fortunately though there is now Google Audio which automates the syndication of radio advertising. So we need Google Audio to hook up with one (or both) of the Music To Go services so we can get them for free by listening to audio advertising. When the user downloads music they also get audio ads (targeted to the listener's profile and download & play history of course) that the DRM software in the player will insert at the necessary intervals[4] based on the play of the ad-supported content[2].

Of course this will bring all the spiffy narrowcasting features (genre sensitivity, favorites, etc.) and interactivity (thumbs down "never play that Cialis ad again for me", thumbs up "click-thru to the ad/send me email about that Movie Sneak Preview ad when I plug into my computer again", frequency that ads are getting skipped) that the web consumer experience is getting.

This ad-supported music for portable players is going to be quite a shock to the current system. Right now everyone assumes that Apple's iPod and the iTunes Music Store will dominate for the foreseeable future. But while everyone with an iPod is going to want free (ad-supported) music, they're probably going to be the last ones to get it.

I've seen that dominance myself (being an iPod owner and using iTunes to buy stuff from the iTunes Music Store), but I've always known that their closed approach to their DRM platform for their hardware coupled with their business model (selling software - songs & albums - at a loss) would bring trouble (just like that same approach has been a problem in the OS and PC arena[3]). While all the second tier guys (Rhapsody/Real, Napster, and Microsoft along with their player makers) will be eager to move quickly into this arena, Apple will be dragging their feet and conflicted by their business model and partners.

So get to work guys! While personally I wouldn't buy a Zune to get free music, I've been sorely tempted to buy a Zen Micro (but have decided to wait until I don't have to pay a monthly fee).

[#1] I meant to write this up idea months ago, but if companies get started now they can bring me what I want in time for next Christmas.

[#2] Heck, with this model players will come preloaded with content[5]. If the user doesn't play the stuff, then no ads play. If they listen to it then the ads play.

[#3] I'm a Mac-addict since 1984 and know intimately the pain Apple deals out to those that love their products.

[#4] The basic logic being a probability proportional to the ratio of ad playing time to ad-supported content playing time. So while we can't (shouldn't) force them to play an ad without skipping through it, the ratio builds up so that eventually ads will have to play before the content will.

[#5] Which will lessen the day after Christmas overload for on-line music and enhance the consumer "first touch" experience through immediate gratification (a primal driver for consumers).


Turns out SpiralFrog is planning to do just exactly this, but the question is whether they will have the ability to pull in the advertisers the way Google Audio will.

Of course the shadow over this utopia is nasty software patents. Even though this idea is obvious, that's not going to (no doubt already has not) stopped folks from patenting every possible detail of its implementation.

--Jim White, 27-Jan-2007