There's no such thing as a free lunch. What there most definitely is is a lot of truth to that statement. If you're getting something like cable or music downloads for free, what you're doing is almost certainly illegal and it's probably taking away from the livelihood of someone who works just as hard as you do. OK, what it is mostly doing is reducing some ridiculously wealthy executive's bottom line, and I'm not one to guilt-trip people on that tip--especially if the company happens to be Comcast (don't even get me started). Still, you shouldn't steal if you can help it because you can never really be sure of who you might be hurting. Hmm, wait a minute...did I just imply that it's OK to hurt certain individuals of questionable character? No, don't hurt anybody--we're all above that. But I digress.
The point is that there are some companies that are trying to make your (digital) life a little easier--a little more hassle-free--and all while encouraging consumers to do the right thing. One such company is the recently launched music venture, We7. The service, which is set to get rolling sometime this month, will offer free music downloads that can be played on any MP3 player. And, yes, of course there's a catch; after all, a major goal of the site is to make sure that artists get paid for their work and that can't happen without some sort of income. In this case, the money will come from advertisers. This is hardly a new notion--Slacker will use ads to fund its free on-the-go content--but We7 is the first that I've come across to offer an entire catalog of downloadable tunes with no player restrictions. (There are sites, such as our own CNET Download.com Music, that offer a limited selection of free downloadable MP3s.)
Every song acquired from We7's catalog will come with a "message" attached to the beginning that will be 10 seconds or less. For each ad-supported track that you download, you'll be presented with the option of acquiring an ad-free version of the same track four weeks after downloading. To me, this is the most compelling feature of the service--that's quite a deal, wouldn't you say? Of course, I'm curious how the company plans to prevent users from chopping off the intro message on their own with some simple audio-editing software. (If you have any ideas how they might implement preventive measures, please post them in the comment section.) If you want to skip out on the ads without the four-week waiting period--and without any questionable finagling--We7 will also be selling the tracks outright. The site also briefly mentions the availability of videos, but it offers no details.
I'm still waiting to hear back from reps at We7 as to what labels will be represented, whether the content is truly unprotected, and if the music will come in MP3 format. MP3 is the logical assumption, as the site specifically mentions compatibility with any MP3 player, but you never know. So far, this impending service seems pretty interesting, and it could be quite successful if it manages to be both extremely easy to use and gets all the major labels on board. But what do you think: good idea or rubbish?
Update: The audio tracks will be in MP3 format and upon original submission (by artists or by users who recommend them) will be at least 128kbps. Should the song be successful, it will be made available at 192kbps for free tracks and 320kbps for paid tracks.