“Free streaming” services are popping up by the hand-full. Qtrax and Spiralfrog are attempting to line up labels and get their “free download” services off the ground. There is a problem with ad-supported, and I don’t just mean it’s not cost effective for businesses.
From the consumer’s view, the music is not really free, it’s really ad supported. Which means that you have to either hear or view ads to experience the music. So – let’s not call it free – let’s call it ad-view supported. The consumer has to experience ads in order to experience music. For radio streaming – where you’re fed a playlist that you don’t control – that’s not necessarily a bad thing – radio has done it for a long time and quite successfully (until now anyway). Dropping in an ad here and there has not deterred people from switching on the radio to experience music. But I think when you choose the track you want and when you want to “own” that track, it is not a really viable model. It’s all a question of what people think of as ownership.
And I think it’s pretty clear people do not want advertisers slapping ads on things they think they own. Now – people might do that them selves (think the words “GAP” on any gap t shirt that people buy), but they don’t want it done to them. For a couple examples – when a company gives you a free T shirt with their logo, you may or may not wear it (ie: OfficeMax)- but it’s not likely to become one of your staples. Hmm – but the analogy breaks down – a t shirt is something you have – but it’s not really an experience, where music is an experience.
People don’t want advertisers inserting an ad into something that people own – that is experience based. Think owning a car – if an advertiser (again like officemax) offered to give you a car painted with an officemax logo would you want it? But wait – there is a better example – think going to a psychologist (any many people think of music as therapeutic); that is a relationship that the patient feels they own. Now – do you think people would stand for it if every time the therapist opened their mouth to say something an ad came out first? I kinda doubt it. They would rather pay for the experience than go through that.
Hence the reason that paid downloads are booming. It’s just so simple – make all music available for download and give users a fun and easy way to get music they know they want, find music they will like, experience and manage their music in a way that works for them, and allow them to incorporate music into their social world.
I suppose people will try out Qtrax for a while, and some people will stick with it. But at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s going to be a large segment of the music business – it’s just not they way people want to experience music.