Spiralfrog’s final demise

Some news stories provide a perfect opportunity for a bit of imagination in writing a snappy headline, often with a pun or metaphor.

News a few days ago that ad-supported music sharing site Spiralfrog has bitten the dust was one such opportunity as this view of news blog headlines in Techmeme illustrates.

spiralfrogtechmeme

The word most used to link with Spiralfrog is ‘croaks.’ No one could do better than that!

Lots of opinion about Spiralfrog, its business model and what might have been since it first emerged on the scene in August 2006 with an exclusive in the Financial Times and in TechCrunch. (I know a bit about that as I was the lead external PR for Spiralfrog as part of what I was doing with crayon before the company formally launched; I left crayon in June 2007.)

spiralfrog It’s a shame to see Spiralfrog’s final demise. They had a terrific concept in 2006, one that was inevitably disruptive: offering a legitimate alternative to illegal music download sites, not competing with iTunes as far too many reporters dreamed was the case and which made plenty of headlines at the time.

The company made some ground-breaking deals with some of the major record labels and independents that arguably set some of the scene for what’s subsequently followed in opening up music online in much wider scope and scale, for artists, labels and consumers.

But perhaps a market for access to DRM-restrictive ‘free’ music as an ad-supported venture like Spiralfrog’s just isn’t there. At least, not a market where you can actually make money.

If you’re a Spiralfrog user, what happens now to music tracks you’ve already downloaded, given that the Spiralfrog terms of service require you to log in the to the website once every 60 days so that your music keeps being playable?

Well, you’ve got 60 more days and then your music won’t play any more, according to CNET News.

Looks like it’s time to bite the bullet and open that account at the iTunes Store (mainly if you have an iPod although that’s a device that Spiralfrog didn’t support) or Amazon (for really DRM-free music on any device).

Heaven forbid that anyone would consider illegal downloads.

[Update March 23] Latest development via CNET News: SpiralFrog owes $34 million. Investors get nothing?

A little Latin flavour

alaf-fiesta08 A part of the world that’s not constantly front-of-mind for many people in the UK is Latin America.

One country that’s an integral part of that region is Costa Rica, nowadays a popular holiday destination and a place I call a second home having lived there for much of the 1980s. It’s also my wife’s first home, something she focuses on with her blog.

So it was a real pleasure to spend much of yesterday afternoon immersed in sights and sounds of Latin America at the 2008 Anglo Latin American Fiesta in the Kensington Town Hall, London.

Organized by the Anglo Latin American Foundation in conjunction with the embassies of the individual countries of Latin America, this annual charitable event aims to provide a platform for raising funds to support children’s charities throughout Latin America.

It’s also a tremendous opportunity for taking lots of photos which I did with my ever-surprising Nokia N95 8GB.

All those photos – 64 of them – are up on Flickr. I’ve also produced a video of them with the excellent Animoto, adding some appropriate Latin music:

A big highlight of the day was an appearance by Mexteca, arguably the best Mexican mariachi band in the UK.

They really added to the ambiente auténtico, playing for over an hour. I captured them at the start with about 6 minutes of video from which you can get a great sense of the crowd and the atmosphere.

¡Sin duda, un buen día!

You’re no one if you’re not on Twitter

It’s nice to start a Monday morning with a bit of a laugh, and what better way to have a laugh today than with this song.

If you’re a Twitter user, the lyrics will make you smile. Wry humour by songwriter Ben Walker that shows some insight into this social micro-blogging networking online world that many people inhabit (me included).

You can listen right here:

[display_podcast]

Or download the MP3 (the song is published under a Creative Commons License).

It’s also worth reading the lyrics, too. That will add to your smiles.

And in defining the geeky audience at which Ben says he’s targeting the Twitter song, he says:

[…] Lucky for me, I’m a card-carrying geek and I love writing quirky pop songs about geeky things. So I have a chance at internet superstardom. Now, if only I had a breakthrough hit song that was guaranteed to go hyperviral the second it hits the Twitterverse…

Holy cow! I just recorded a song about Twitter! I bet that would work!

Works for me, Ben!

(Via The Next Web)

Podcasting and digital rights

If you’re a UK-based podcaster and concerned about digital rights, an upcoming event from the UK Podcasters Association (UKPA) may interest you:

UKPA is hosting a seminar on rights with the Open Rights Group at the Guardian, Farringdon, London, Saturday March 29th 2pm – 5pm and it would be great if you would come and take part.

Becky Hogge and Matt Wells (heads of ORG and Guardian Audio respectively) will be there, as well as representatives from MCPS-PRS and AIM (Association of Independent Music).

ORG will discuss how the EU AVMS Directive could impact negatively upon podcasting (if we let it) and generally explain the current issues facing podcasters as they see them. In the second session, we’ll cover new developments in music and podcasting.

More information including how to register on the UKPA blog.

Online video: Opportunities and challenges

A number of things struck me as I sat in a briefing room in Microsoft’s main London office yesterday morning.

msnvideo The occasion was a press event by Microsoft to announce their vision for online video in Europe including their strategy for MSN Video, its on-demand free video channel on the web.

Probably the biggest news was the partnerships Microsoft has struck with Sony BMG and MTV Networks International where wide-ranging content from both providers will be available from Microsoft’s video network in Europe.

That’s what much of the subsequent mainstream media reporting has focused on.

The Times has a good angle:

[...] Part of the reason for Microsoft’s new focus on video is the nascent market for video advertising, which still makes up only a small percentage of the overall online advertising budget, but is expected to grow significantly in the next couple of years.

The ads, which typically roll before or after a video when it is played on a site – or appear around it – have so far only really made an impact in a few markets, a spokesman for MTV Networks said, and present difficulties for advertisers trying to measure reach.

That was my thought, too – it’s about online advertising and revenue. Yes, it’s also about destinations, social experiences and content portals, as Microsoft explained yesterday, but it’s really about extending a market opportunity and driving revenue growth.

And the overall online advertising pie is getting bigger according to some reports.

sonybmgFor me, one of the most interesting moments in the event came in the presentation by Ulrich Jaerkel, Sony BMG’s senior vice-president of Digital and Business Development in Europe.

He said something that clearly is representative of the struggles going on with the major record labels who are grappling with the realization that the world is changing:

The recorded music industry is facing challenges … Sony BMG is [becoming] a music entertainment company, not a record company.

Before the event started, I was wondering how the Microsoft folk would deal with any questions that came up about the Microsoft bid for Yahoo, especially as online advertising is a phrase that is so linked to much commentary and reporting about that bid as the AP story I linked to above suggests.

Well handled, actually, with an up front statement from Marc Bresseell, Microsoft’s EMEA manager for Digital Advertising Solutions, that this was a topic not on the discussion agenda. No one argued with that.

Only one journalist made reference to it in a question, in spite of the earlier disclaimer on the topic. And deftly deflected by Microsoft.

One other thing that stuck me – every time I go to a media briefing, I have trouble getting online with my mobile phone. Nothing wrong with the phone, a Nokia N95 8GB, it’s the network connectivity.

There was wifi there available for guests to access. But it needed an authentication key and I didn’t find time to ask to get one. I thought I’d be ok with the normal cellular network.

Not so! Very poor cellular signal in the basement presentation room. So no live Qik and seesmic mobile video streaming, which is what I had in mind.

A real treat was finally meeting James Cherkoff in person, who was also there. I think we were the only two bloggers present, or at least the only two non-journalist bloggers.

I’ve known James for several years because of our blogs, even though we’ve never met until yesterday. Shel and I interviewed him on FIR in April 2005, along with Johnnie Moore, about open source marketing.

I do have one niggle about yesterday’s event, and that’s about the press releases. Three in total, nice crisp printouts. Handy to have for quick reference and to get the formal messages.

Yet I find such paper useless. I can’t link to it. And I can’t copy and paste. I want electronic copies, either a file I can open up on my PC or on a website somewhere.

So I go hunting on Microsoft’s websites to find the online versions.

But there are none.

Nothing in Microsoft’s UK press room. Nothing in Microsoft’s EMEA press room. And nothing in Microsoft PressPass, the company’s main media website.

Even after spending a bit more time searching these various sites, nothing shows up.

I count that as three strikes. As the saying goes, three strikes and you’re out and if I were a journalist, it probably would be by now.

I want to find something online I can link to in a post like this. For instance, the second paragraph above includes the phrase "vision for online video in Europe" that would be perfect to link to Microsoft’s press release. But I can’t.

I see that as a wasted opportunity for Microsoft, more than anything.

The only press release I can find online is Sony BMG’s.

But, that niggle aside, I found it a useful event to hear some thinking from some interesting people who are driving forward some great ideas about video in Europe.

Qtrax: More than just a PR disaster

Maybe a nail in the coffin for the advertising-supported music download business model.

From The Times yesterday:

A website which promised to give music lovers the world’s first legal file-sharing service was forced into a humiliating climbdown today after it emerged that the company had not secured the backing of the record industry.

Qtrax, a New York firm, unveiled its service with a glitzy £500,000 launch in Cannes at the weekend, hiring stars including James Blunt, LL Cool J.

Today it emerged that none of the four major labels had done deals with the site, putting a large dent in the promised catalogue of 25 million songs and prompting allegations that the site’s founders had misled fans.

EMI, Warner, Sony BMG and Universal all confirmed that they had not agreed deals with Qtrax which would allow fans to download their music for free in return for being exposed to advertising on the site. Warner and Universal said that they were in negotiations with the site.

I wonder what the future really holds for ad-supported services like Qtrax or any of the many others out there.

Look at what’s happening when companies like Amazon launched a service in the US last year that lets you purchase and download music in the open MP3 file format as opposed to a restrictive DRM-enabled format like WMA that is the format of choice for the ad-supported services.

There’s also iTunes, the market leader by far. But music files are encoded in a proprietary file format, just as with the DRM-enabled WMA file format, which restricts what you can do with the music you purchase and download.

If you want your music to be mobile, the only choice with iTunes for most people is an iPod.

"Play anywhere DRM-free music downloads" is Amazon’s message about the music you can acquire from artists signed to the four major labels – the same ones Qtrax didn’t quite conclude deals with, apparently – plus thousands of independent labels and artists.

You can play that music on any device that plays MP3s.

Now Amazon is planning to launch internationally during 2008, once they’ve signed new deals with the various labels. So no word yet on when that will be.

Still, your choices are quite clear:

  • Legally purchase music you can download from a trusted supplier (Amazon), and play that music on any device you want, as many times as you want and whenever you want.

or

  • Go to a website, watch ads while music files legally download to your PC via a slow download manager, free of charge but which has some bothersome restrictions on what devices you can play that music on, how many times and when. Plus, you typically have to log in to the service’s website every 30 days or so or your music will stop being playable.

Another way to put those choices: You want free legal music? Fine, but put up with the restrictions.

I’m sure there is a market for ad-supported free music. I just don’t think it’s one that has a sustainable future.