The press is having a field day with Last.fm's announcement today that it's now offering "free" music
. It has the type of "hook" that the press loves. A site that's willing to stream music for free. It's so tempting to tell that story that everyone seems to be missing a few important details. Detail #1: It's not really free. Detail #2: It's nothing new at all. It doesn't let you download music. It merely lets you stream it. And, even then, you're only limited to 3 streams before you can no longer hear that song again without buying it. That sounds quite similar to the program that RealNetworks launched nearly three years ago allowing you to stream 25 songs per month for free
. Or how about Napster's program, launched in 2006, which let you stream songs five times for free
before asking you to pay up. If anything, the Last.fm deal, with only 3 streams, is a lot more limited
than these earlier offerings. And, yet, just as they did with the RealNetworks and Napster deals in years past, the press is raving about this "free music" offering from Last.fm and CBS (owner of Last.fm). The NY Times is incorrectly claiming that Last.fm is "the first company"
to do this. Reuters is calling it "free music on demand"
, completely ignoring the limit of only three streams. The UK's Times Online suggests this somehow is moving the world closer to "legally" listening to free music online
. Almost every article on the story has a similar theme, and almost no one seems to note that this isn't really free and it's certainly not particularly different than what's been out there for years. Apparently, if you want gushing press, all you need to do is announce "free" online music, even if the details suggest something entirely different.