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Just say no to Freegal

April 13, 2011

I am going to do what few librarians ever do. I am going to be perfectly frank about negative experiences with a vendor.  Consequences be damned.

I remember Meredith Farkas’s courageous post about EBSCO’s unethical practices in April of last year. There were repercussions for her post, but she met her goal of having the library community talking about EBSCO as a vendor to libraries.

Historically, librarians only publicly post about the positive experiences they’ve had with vendors. The negatives seem to only come out at late night drinking fests at conferences or in private conversations. I believe this lack of willingness to speak frankly about the companies we buy stuff from is due to three problems:

  1. As a profession, we’re generally nice people and don’t like to talk smack about anyone. This is generally a wonderful trait, but when we’re talking about allocating our scarce resources it can be extremely detrimental.
  2. Librarians are afraid of repercussions at work, including being disciplined, yelled at, or just plain fired.
  3. Librarians are afraid of the vendors, who they think might give them worse prices and support if they bad-mouth the product.

But hey, this is me. I’m tired of being quiet. And I’m not pulling any punches now that I don’t have to in order to preserve my job.

I’m going to tell you about my experiences with Freegal, and why Freegal is a bad investment for libraries.

I’ve worked with Freegal. I have dealt with the sales and support staff, used it as a user and as an administrator, I reviewed stats, and I fielded patron comments/complaints. And one of the reasons I’m posting this now is that Freegal is now cold-calling and cold-visiting my area’s libraries, and doing the typical sales dance that hides the limitations and problems of the product. A visit happened to my library yesterday, where the sales rep asked for our director for a cold-call sales pitch in person. I am pretty sure he didn’t realize that I now work for this library instead of my previous employer.

If I’m being polite, I would say that Freegal is not a wise investment for your library. If I’m being honest with you over a beer, I’ll say that Freegal is a frelling piece of junk and I don’t trust the company.

But whether you prefer the first or second mode of expression, the message is the same. Libraries have been lured into purchasing Freegal by well-crafted sales pitches, promises of future enhancements, and a false god of shiny technology.

Freegal is a product that offers libraries downloads of music, from Sony, as DRM-free MP3s (and DRM-free MP3s are awesome; let me be clear about that). Freegal Music is owned by Library Ideas, LLC. Library Ideas, LLC is a company that has a single webpage. Freegal also only has a single webpage. Now, if my librarian skills are telling me anything, I’d be a bit skeptical of giving tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to a company that has so sparse a web presence.

The last library I worked for purchased a year’s worth block of downloads from Freegal. The staff worked with it for a while and we had some bad experiences, including many complaints from customers.

I wrote a post in September 2010 about libraries and digital music: “Music in Libraries: We’re Doing It Wrong.” The post mentioned Freegal, as well as Overdrive and Alexander Street Music. Freegal did not like what I had to say. Comments were made on my blog, and a call was placed to someone above me in the library. This call from Freegal included asking my supervisor to tell me to remove my post, or at least revise it. I said no, and thankfully my director backed me up. This blog was and is a journalistic enterprise of my own making, done on my own time. If I want to comment on a vendor’s product or service, I can do so. We all can.

My goal here is to peel back the veil, to give you an honest assessment in my opinion, and to educate people about what exactly it is that Freegal has for libraries.

Why are we buying pay-per-use MP3s?
I believe that without really thinking it through, libraries who have subscribed to Freegal have created a fundamental change in their library’s collection policy and expenditures.

Libraries typically buy one copy of something, and then lend it out to multiple users sequentially, in order to get a good return on investment. Participating in a product like Freegal means that we’re not lending anymore, we’re buying content for users to own permanently so they don’t have to pay the vendor directly themselves. This puts us in direct competition with the vendor’s sales directly to consumers, and the vendors will never make more money off of libraries than they will off of direct consumer sales.

What that does is put libraries in a position of being economic victims of our own success. I would think that libraries would remember this lesson from our difficulties with the FirstSearch pay-per-use model that most of us found to be unsustainable.

The more popular our service gets, the less able we are to meet demand. The private industry is moving away from pay-per-use. Netflix, Rdio, etc. are offering all-you-can-eat models instead on a subscription model. Freegal puts us in danger of manufacturing a demand we can no longer meet. The pay-per-use model undermines the economic power of libraries, which is to aggregate our communities’ buying power and take advantage of the economies of scale. I believe strongly that buying a product like Freegal could be damaging to libraries’ long-term economic sustainability.

It’s important to realize that Freegal only offers Sony music. That’s it – one record label. Despite promises from the very beginning that they’re “just about to add new record labels,” they have not offered anything other than Sony music. To me, offering a service that only presents one publisher’s offerings is not in keeping with our collection policies that require non-preferential selection. Also please realize that not all Sony music is offered in Freegal. It’s a select number of albums from a select number of artists.

Freegal offers two models for purchase:

  • A library can buy a block of downloads, a set number for the whole year, but once those are gone they’re gone. You can either set a library-wide weekly cap (divide your yearly total by 52) or choose no cap. Users are limited to 3 downloads per week.
  • A library can buy the “unlimited plan” (which isn’t really unlimited) which lets any library user download 3 per week, with no weekly or yearly cap. And you guessed it, this option is significantly more expensive. For a large urban library, the quoted cost was well over $100,000—over half of the library’s entire eResources budget.

This pricing model is not sustainable for libraries. From the dozen librarians I’ve spoken with at libraries with Freegal, it seems that the average cost per song is on par with a consumer-cost for a song ($1) or slightly more ($1.10 or so). If we really want to offer users a wide selection of MP3s they can keep forever, wouldn’t it be cheaper and smarter to simply buy users 3 MP3s from any record label through Amazon or iTunes?

Feedback on Freegal from Users
We had hundreds of complaints from users about Freegal at my last library.  I have heard the same thing from most of the other Freegal libraries I’ve spoken with.  The main complaints I heard were that the 3 songs per week limit was not sufficient. We heard repeatedly that having to schedule yourself out for a month’s worth of downloads to get a full album was not realistic. Other users were severely unhappy that the collection was only Sony, and some pointed out the preferential treatment asking if we’d been paid off to just offer Sony music. Others reported that they loved the service at first, but found the weekly limit per person to be just plain annoying and stopped coming back to the site after a few weeks. Persistent access, not temporally limited, is the expected norm – and when a service doesn’t provide that, it creates less interest in repeated visits and use.

Customer Service
I forwarded user comments, questions, and complaints to Freegal. I got no response. Even though I was named as the contact for my library, the company persisted in contacting another librarian (who was the initial sales contact) for all issues.  It was as if I didn’t exist.  Even after a face-to-face meeting where the rep was told by our administration to only work with me, he continued to exclude me. It was like a junior high shunning.  Technical problems that users encountered were never addressed. It was like sending questions and emails into a vacuum. A company that behaves that way does not get a gold star in my book.

False Promises and Bullying
In addition to the bad customer service issues listed above, I also question the overall ethics of the company and its sales staff. Numerous promises were made to me (“off the record of course”) that new content from other record labels would be added in the next few months. It’s always “in the next few months” and yet that elusive day never seems to come. My advice is to never, ever buy a product based on features or content that is not explicitly included in the contract.

The company also swears that they are giving you an amazing deal that no other library receives. And guess what? Everybody’s getting that same deal. This happens with a lot of vendors. Remember: their job is to sell. Negotiating with vendors is sadly often more like negotiating for a used car than it is like buying a fixed-price item off the shelf.

I condemn the company’s decision to contact my supervisor to tell me to take down my post that mentioned their product.  Even if this had been on a library blog that I’d written on library time, that action is a very poor way to respond to criticisms of your product.  But the fact that this blog is mine and not the library’s made it indefensible.

The salesperson I worked with also told me that the contract terms, including pricing, was “strictly confidential” and that it could not go out of the room. Heads up: unless you signed a non-disclosure agreement with a company, you can discuss any contract terms with whoever you want. That kind of meaningless and baseless bullying from a vendor sits very poorly with me.

So why does Freegal continue to be such a big temptation for libraries?
One word: technolust. Libraries are so keen to offer digital content to their users, a worthy and long-overdue goal. But Freegal’s model is simply not the way to be successful for digital music.  We need to wait for, or create ourselves, something that does work for libraries.  Freegal doesn’t work because:

  • Select songs from one record label is not the way to be successful.
  • A costly and unsustainable pay-per-use model is not the way to be successful.
  • Low limits per week for users is not the way to be successful.
  • And working with a vendor that is a bit shady and unresponsive is not the way to be successful.

Am I wrong?
I admit that it’s possible. My own experiences may be drastically different than everyone else’s, though I’d be surprised if that was the case. If you and your library have had good experiences with Freegal, leave a comment here. If you disagree with the assertions I’ve made above, tell me why I’m wrong. If you’ve had bad experiences, please share those too—anonymously if you feel more comfortable sharing that way.  I encourage people, though, to name your library and yourself. I want to see more people talking about positives and negatives of various vendor experiences. We need to help each other as professionals to get the best deal from the best vendors out there.  Sharing information is good, right?  It’s the principle to which our profession is dedicated.  Let’s share as much as we can, the good and the bad.  In this case, unfortunately it’s the bad.

“Just say no to Freegal”

  1. Jeff Scott Says:

    I got the pitch too. The cost for the unlimited was the same cost as our biggest database. It’s more on the “It’s the cool thing to do” perception-wise than anything else. That will hook more than one director into it even if the service is questionable. It’s also an overwhelming amount of music with no way to really chunk the data. It’s just guesswork if they carry something. It would seem to cause more confusion than anything else.

  2. Jen H from NH Says:

    You aren’t wrong! And thanks for this post.

    I can’t offer personal experience with the vendor beyond the initial visit from a sales rep., but I wholeheartedly agree with your opinion that the pricing model is unsustainable and unwise. I was never really tempted by this product, I don’t think any community would be in favor of spending their tax dollars to give away free music to the first X number of people that logged on in any given month. Library service is about pooling resources to collect materials to share, not pooling resources to buy stuff for the most technologically savvy to keep for themselves.

    “if my librarian skills are telling me anything, I’d be a bit skeptical of giving tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to a company that has so sparse a web presence.” This is a great statement, by the way: it does make my librarian sense tingle to do business with a company that offers so little transparency.

  3. Julie Says:

    Thank you for your refreshingly frank and informational posting. I was just beginning my research into Freegal’s services and you saved me a a ton of time!

  4. Donna Says:

    We got the pitch last year and I was very tempted. But the idea that we weren’t lending, but buying mp3s for each patron never did sit right with me. I also could never figure out what would be a fair enough amount of downloads per week or month per patron. It just didn’t seem affordable. I hadn’t even begun to really think about the limits of just using Sony music because my community really does just want the popular items. (I know because I’ve tried to liven things up a bit and have ended up weeding most of it a couple years later). I think this is such an important post because you have so many readers and there probably are a lot of libraries out there who just aren’t thinking this through. As far as your treatment from the vendor though – specifically the promises of adding new features/content – please tell me the name of a vendor public libraries work with who does not offer these kinds of empty promises.

  5. Vera Says:

    When I first learned that my library was getting Freegal, I felt distinctly uncomfortable. Like you, I feel its not the library way to keep paying for the same item over and over again. I also objected to the single catalog which to seems to me to be endorsing Sony above other companies. We haven’t had the customer service issues you’ve encountered, but I remain uneasy. What it boils down to is that this a service we are providing out of fear. We don’t want to be left behind or somehow become obsolete, so we make impulse buys like an older woman wearing clothes that are far too young for her.

  6. david lee king Says:

    Interesting… we use the service. I’ve been told that the sales person has been a bit … um …. “salesman-like.” But other than that, we like the service. We’re definitely assessing it year by year, and fully expect it to be a stopgap thing until the next best thing for music comes along. But it seems to be working for us, and our customers have no complaints (that I’ve heard, anyway).

    But their website? Please. Suckola. Freegal, that’s an easy fix. And the customer service of their salesforce? Another easy fix. Get better sales staff. That aren’t rude and condescending (I’ve heard this from multiple librarians).

  7. Sarah Says:

    @Donna – You make a good point. Many salespeople do make empty promises of future enhancements. We need to be smarter and not trust a salesperson’s word instead of the legally binding words in the contract.

    @David- I’m really glad you’re not getting complaints. I wonder why the difference? And yes, their website is suckola. And to back up what you’ve heard about the salesperson, I’ve definitely gotten the “condescending” vibe. I guess for me, I’d rather not invest in anything that is stop-gap. Pay-per-use just isn’t sustainable and I would have a hard time defending this model of expenditure to my community. So we go without Sony downloadable music, and I’m okay with that.

  8. Wendy Hicks Says:

    dear LIB – as a library initially keenly excited by the ability to offer our patrons downloadable music without a lot of gear/steps/noise,
    I read your Freegal post with great interest. Our concern was the different model — not borrowing, buying — outright, and the solo Sony offering – large as it is. I wonder where we go from here? There is no question libraries are hungry for an alternative, suitable model for music lending. However, just by having this conversation — very publicly — is a solid first step.

    By the way — the poor webpage is not only thing our staff noted as incredibly inferior. Try using the Freegal index/search — by music type/genre/artist; it’s terrible, inconsistent, plain old broken. Library staff in their sleep could do better — and it did make us wonder about the quality of the whole product. We did mention it to the salesperson, but he had never noticed it before (?).

    Let’s hope Freegal takes these suggestions to heart…or perhaps, better still, someone out there with the necessary brains & skill & capital develops a better library platform & system for lending digital music.
    Congrats on having the courage of your convictions — w.

  9. Kenneth Odom Says:

    Wow…I feel totally in the minority here. We’ve been using Freegal for 6 months now and our patrons love it. We explain to them upfront about the download limitations and the fact it is only Sony’s music, but most simply shrug and don’t seem to mind or care. As a small rural library, our discussion about Freegal centered around two main concerns: the price of the service and our current space limitations (picture a 6,000 sq. ft. building that should be 40,000 sq. ft. to serve our current population). After comparing the price to our current AV spending, we decided it was worth the risk to try it for a year. The space consideration was perhaps the biggest reason we took the dive, tho. Freegal allows us to offer a much wider selection and save on the physical space that is already at such a high premium in our building.

    Now, as for salesman, the beginning was a little rocky but I have since found and developed a good relationship with David Berset. He has been nothing but polite, friendly, and accommodating when I’ve spoken with him.

    I also am not aware of any technical problems with the Freegal website. I’ve used it a few times with no trouble and I have not had anybody tell me of any problems. Is it the most visually appealing site I’ve used? Uh…no. And I do agree that Library Idea’s corporate website is a sad thing.

    (Perhaps I should qualify all the above statements by saying I am not a degreed librarian, but the head IT geek. Does that make a difference in my perspective? Maybe, I don’t know.)

  10. max Says:

    Hmm…do you have another suggestion for Library’s that want to offer music in the format most accepted by our customers? I appreicate your feedback but Blockbuster is to me a cautionary tale about not entering a market until all the details are solidly figured out and a model for service is a proven success. No coincidence that the last Blockbuster in my neighborhood just closed up and is now a Chipotle.

  11. Sarah Says:

    @Kenneth – Head IT Geek comments are of course welcome!

    @Max – Read about what Eli Neiberger is doing at the Ann Arbor District Library ( They have a contract with local music producer Magnatune allowing for unlimited downloads for their users for a fixed yearly price. Over 1,000 albums currently, not from super best-seller artists necessarily, but good music! The big name record labels won’t sell to libraries. They don’t want to. Sony is doing so through Freegal, but again…it’s a bad deal for libraries. I’m interested to see how AADL’s experiment works!

  12. Some guy Says:

    Why should I use more than half of our CD music budget just to give songs to some patrons at a higher price than they could purchase it from Amazon or iTunes?
    Using public money?
    Especially when all the other libraries around here do already, and anyone can get a card just by walking in the door there?
    A handful will find it awesum and convenient and free and all that, but why hasn’t anyone else (except you) seen that we put ourselves in political as in funding jeopardy this way?
    Our CDs go out A LOT. Yeah, some disappear , some wear, and it’s darn inconvenient to return then (but then you get some more) out but on the whole much more use and much better value for $ for us and our patrons. We also get a lot of donations.

  13. Louise Alcorn Says:

    Sarah, as always, some provocative and useful discussion. You ask at the end why we find this so attractive – I think we (mostly) see the flaws, but this is all so new, we’re trying out what’s available to us, in hopes of finding a system, a process that works for the long(ish) term. I see this in other digital content choices for libraries – in some cases, we pay too much to have access to multiple download streams, in hopes of finding one that properly fits our patrons and/or is the most popular. Sort of a spitball effect. Not, perhaps, the best use of our money, but especially for those of us serving digitally sophisticated communities (is that a term? well, it is now) , we’d be in bigger trouble if we didn’t try some of these services. Now, I wouldn’t touch Freegal for a number of reasons (which you largely outlined), but I’m certainly going to keep looking at all options for digital content and take cautious steps into that realm. I’m in the lucky space that I can talk to my library buddies like yourself, over a beer, and get the real poop. Not being on the bleeding edge has some advantages.

    Also, I think this should be added to the new LISVendor wiki at!

  14. Sarah Says:

    This has been added to the LISVendor wiki already :)

  15. wvlibrarydude Says:

    Thanks for this post about Freegal. I had the same issues with them when they first approached me a year ago. It sounded interesting at first to finally get something decent for music in downloadable form. Then came the big issues:
    1. Only Sony – Yes, they promised the same thing a “year” ago!
    2. Price was about $1.10 to $1.29 per track. One person get to download. Hello, I said. I can purchase the same music for less on Amazon or iTunes. Only one person gets to listen to it? That would be like paying full price for a CD and then giving it to the first person that came through the door.
    3. Limits – Who would want to deal with the frustration of getting only two or three tracks a week. Or worse, you aren’t the lucky few that hit the time right and you don’t even get a song because the weekly limit is meet. Ugh!

    Don’t be sorry for saying what you did. This company is sham and should be shouted about throughout the Library world.

    - wvlibrarydude

  16. Henry Says:

    I totally disagree! Bigtime!
    Freegal is one of those rare occurrences: an electronic resource that we buy that people love!
    The only complaint we have had was when we were changing our SIP2 connection and patrons could not get in (our fault)!

    Pay Per Download gives people what they want when they want it!
    Give me more products like this!
    Sony is the only label willing to get on board now; I do not feel that Freegal is lying saying they are seeking more music to add.
    Comment about website: low blow! It works! It authenticates!
    We found their sales people to be perfectly charming: the tech people too!
    They went out of their way to help us out when we needed help.
    We have always gotten very responsive service.
    About giving stuff away: philosophical disagreement – We give “content” away all the time – Library Programs! Only people who make it to the library get to see the free performer, free author visit, free lecture – that we paid for. Unfair? I don’t see anyone complaining.
    Also, take away the price of shipping, processing, and replacing CDs.
    Also, about the “danger of manufacturing a demand we can no longer meet” that remains to be seen…we are meeting our demand.
    Maybe this is a rare case: a product that is more suited to a smaller library.
    If more libraries and consortia leverage their buying power, maybe they could all get Freegal at a lower cost.
    Say Yes!
    Also! Points for a new paradigm in libraryland!
    Freegal users unite! We have nothing to lose but our chains to traditional group-think.
    I think is reminding me a lot of group-think

  17. shoshana Says:

    thanks for having the guts to speak up. my library had freegal for a year, but decided not to renew for many of the reasons you discuss. patrons liked that they could get music, but didn’t like the limits. we chose to distribute our allowed number of downloads over the year, so the library in general had limits as to how much could be downloaded per week. the counter would reset at 9pm sunday, and the limit was usually reached by monday morning, so for the rest of the week no one could download anything. and their pricing for “unlimited” downloads was way out of our reach financially. i give them credit for trying, but we should wait for a better product.

  18. Henry again Says:

    Poor implementation by Shoshana’s library system is not the fault of Freegal the product. We love the Glee music on Freegal also, btw!

  19. Bobbi Newman Says:

    Sarah thank you for writing this. I’ve had similar experiences with Freegal and I have the same complaints and concerns you do!

  20. Heather Says:

    I work with a consortium in California and we represent Freegal. We have about 10 libraries using the service who signed on through us, and people seem largely happy – only one library didn’t renew their subscription. We were anxious to work with them simply because they are trying something different, and we like to support people who are trying new things.

    Personally, I have worked as a vendor for both (now owned by Alexander Street Press) and Naxos Music Library before joining my consortium. I am a musician, and I subscribe to both rhapsody and napster. I have hundreds of youtube playlists. I have an entire screen on my smartphone with music apps –, pandora, rdio, classicfm, and many more. I have played around with online music services since the days of when I had to load songs to download on my dial-up and then go to the grocery store and when I came back they still weren’t finished. Point is – I know about online music and I know about selling online music into libraries.

    It’s tough. We all know the music industry didn’t exactly embrace online music in the early days to start with. Getting them to embrace online music in libraries is an even tougher prospect.

    Freegal isn’t perfect, and you make some fair points. However, I think that they would really love to have more than one catalog, though – it would be in their own interest – if other labels see success with this, then maybe they’d be more willing to come on board…seems to me like the best way to get more labels to sign on, is to buy the service to show the labels it can be done.

    One other thing to think about – you all know that people are taking out CD’s and then ripping them on their computer, right? I mean, I know of several librarians who do that, so you KNOW that patrons are doing that, right? Unlike books, it’s easy to make a copy of a CD, and many people actually do it right in the library. I’ve seen it. That’s one reason why labels are wary of libraries in the first place. At least this way you’re providing for a need that’s not being met right now, you’re doing it legally, and you’re showing labels that selling to libraries doesn’t mean that they’re losing money and giving away their music.

    I know of at least two other major urban libraries that have Freegal and would love to see them comment on their experiences.

    Freegal isn’t perfect by any means, but in my dealing with the reps and directors, they seem just as up front as many other vendors. I believe at least two of the founders had worked for Recorded Books before, so have an understanding of how libraries work. In our negotiations they always seemed willing to provide discounts as much as they could, and understood the issues that libraries were dealing with. I didn’t find them shady. And there are vendors that I do think are shady, and I won’t work with them.

    Yes, their informative website sucks, but that is an easy fix that they could do in a weekend – hopefully they will.

    One thing about disclosing your contract terms – I always thought that as a public institution spending tax dollars, you couldn’t keep money and costs a secret, no matter how much a vendor might like you to. I don’t know about the legality of that, but it seems to me that it’s public information.

    By the way, with my napster subscription, before I switched to the mobile version, it included 5 downloads a month. Not 3 a week. I know I had unlimited on demand streaming, too (which people can pretty much get on youtube anyway), but the idea that people need a month to complete an album seems off to me – popular music is based on the single, not the album. I can’t see people waiting to download the entire new Britney Spears album, but rather would download “Hold it Against Me”, the single that’s out now. (I’m a little embarrassed that I know this). It seems to me that your patrons were being a little bratty with being upset that they “only” got 3 free songs a week. Classical music, symphonies, etc, are more album-driven because it’s an entire work, and there are some pop artists that are geared towards an album (especally these days in the electronic/trance world – Daft Punk comes to mind), but for the most part, I can’t see 3 singles a week being a bad deal.

    Anyway, a thought-provoking post, but overall what I’ve seen with our libraries is that they are satisfied. As a musician and someone who has worked with these services, I appreciate the enormity of what they are trying to do, and hope that they are paving the way for a new type of service in libraries.

  21. Mike Says:

    Count us in the happy Freegal users camp. After blowing thousands upon thousands of dollars on websites that no one uses but which we think are important, we are relieved to be able to offer something that people love to use. The Freegal website IS horrible and I do see it as a stop-gap solution…but when something better comes around we’ll move to that. I just looked at our stats for last fiscal year and Freegal was our website’s most searched term (after “employment”) and it feels really good to offer something that people are excited about.

    While I have some quibbles about the technology (I’d like to be able to use an id for demo purposes without using up allotted downloads, for example…plus the aforementioned garbage website) I haven’t personally dealt with the salespeople. But we pretty much saw them at a conference, got a quote and bought it. It hasn’t required tons of maintenance so we don’t have regular dealings.

  22. Brian Downing Says:


    I’m not really addressing you here, as I suspect, to put it mildly, you have made up your mind. I hope you will have the courtesy to post this:

    1. OK, so we all know what Sarah thinks of the service. But if you are considering Freegal, just Google “library ideas freegal sony” and call any 2 or 3 of the hundreds of libraries that come up. Ask them what their experience is. I can confidently say it will be positive. I’m happy to supply anyone who asks a list of 2, 5, 10, 50…name your number…references. All I ask is for you to talk to the people that HAVE the service, and not the ones that don’t, or got upset because they weren’t involved in the decision making process. If you disagree with the concept, we accept that. We do not accept false statements about our service.
    2. RE: The web page. Our products are web sites. I apologize for spending all our time developing our products at the expense of our PR. We have 3 websites—Freegal, Rocket Languages and Games for Libraries. A website that promotes our products cost about $10-15,000 to create. Does anyone really think that is a reflection on the viability of our company in a B2B market? Have those folks considered what resources it would take to bring a global music giant to market? Which would be the greater reflection of the company’s capabilities; a major label music distribution or a $10,000 website promoting ourselves?
    3. We have a tracking service that tracks issues. Each one is responded to. After a year in business, and downloads in the millions, we are at Issue #313. Not one call has come in from a staff member of San Jose Public or Santa Clara County other than during the setup of the service.
    4. Rather than try to embarrass Sarah by asking her for one email that she sent us, or any record of a patron complaint, let me ask a rhetorical question or two: Are the hundreds of libraries that have given us their money just libraries that don’t know how to evaluate a product? Are these media companies that trust us with their valuable content also rubes?
    5. Library Ideas has never promised anything but Sony content. These deals are not easy to do. All my public (and private) statements on this issue are very consistent. The libraries, big and small, that have signed on with us are not inexperienced business people. They would not take an “off the record” comment or a wink. I would never comment on ongoing negotiations (or lack thereof) but let me say this: No one should buy Freegal on the premise or promise of anything but what it has now (and additions from the same content provider, which are substantial).

    Feel free to call us if you need any specific factual information on our service. We are also happy to provide indisputable business references, but I don’t think anyone takes the “sham” comments seriously.

    Brian Downing
    CEO, Library Ideas, LLC

  23. Andy Woodworth Says:

    @Brian: Your answer here is longer than the content of both your Freegal website *and* your Library Ideas website. Just sayin’.

    Speaking of that content, my suggestion would be to get testimonials from some of the hundreds of libraries that have satisfactory service from Freegal. It might be a better alternative to telling people to Google it.

  24. Brian Downing Says:


    Totally valid. Point scored.

    And that’s a great idea.

    Thank you.


  25. Renee Lowery Says:

    Owatonna Public Library implemented Freegal in November 2010. Our experience working with both their sales and technical staff has been very positive. Patrons love the service. Occasionally there have been glitches (usually when the patron doesn’t realize they’ve hit “Download Now” and ends up downloading the same song 3 times), but the vast majority of “complaints” have come from patrons who live outside our service area who want to be able to use the service and can’t. We encourage them to talk to their home libraries.

    We went with the unlimited (overall to the Library) downloads package, with patrons limited to 3 songs/week. No patron has complained about the weekly limit. Patrons and staff alike love the fact that there is no clunky DRM.

    We know this is a different service model. We are a community of music lovers (strong history of support for music education in the schools, lots of local musicians, some nationally known, etc.). We have an excellent Media Librarian who has been here for decades and kept our music collection strong over that time, changing formats with the times. But we ended at CDs. The way patrons are getting music these days is through downloads. We needed to find a way to provide that format, and Freegal is what we are trying. We are using gift funds this first year to pay for it. Of course, as with any service, we will be re-evaluating as the contract comes up and price will be one of the big factors at that time. But this is how we begin.

  26. Brian Guenther Says:

    We recently gave Freegal a test drive and decided not to go with the service based mostly on their lack of currently popular titles. I found that they only had 32% of the top 50 most requested albums in our system and 34% of Billboards top 50 albums for the week I did my search. One of the points that the sales rep made was that people generally do not download entire albums these days; they’re more likely to go for individual songs. So, I also searched Billboard’s Top 40 Digital Song list for that week and had a 45% success rate. I personally was not able to find many songs that I was interested in using up a download on. Given the price, we would have had to divert funds from our CD collection, which would have been fine if we knew we could consistently find the titles our customers are looking for.

    I honestly want to root for Freegal because I feel that CDs are going to go the way of the cassette or 8-track tape soon. If we can’t provide access to the formats that our customers are using, where does that leave us? Unfortunately, the price was too high for the kind of results we saw at this time.

  27. Open Thread Thursday: Vendors « Agnostic, Maybe Says:

    [...] was reading Sarah Houghton-Jan’s post about Freegal* this evening when it reminded me of the wiki/website that Sarah Glassmeyer had set up called [...]

  28. Jane Says:

    I am a Santa Clara County Library staffer and user. I was not involved in the decision making process for getting Freegal, but I was extremely excited when we did get it and promoted it pretty heavily.
    My disappointment with Freegal comes as a user. Here are my issues: the search and browsing options are pretty darn lame. If this is a library product, it should have better usability.
    My biggest issue is that I can never get a friggin download. I think I got a song or two the first week before people knew about Freegal. Now whenever I try to login, I am waitlisted. The policy is that the rollover is at midnight at Sunday, and you can login and download within the next 24 hours. Are you kidding me?! Take it, for example, if we told our patrons that to get their holds, they had to show up at midnight on Sunday, on a first come first served basis to get their holds. I call BS, Freegal. That is not equal access. I wonder if statistics are available as to who the users are who are accessing the downloads, but I would like to propose that it’s a fair number of patrons who download items beginning at midnight and some time on Monday. Sorry, Freegal, I have a life. Most libraries have a policy limiting their holds, and I think something similar should exist for such a product.

  29. Carol C. Says:

    Brian D., while you’re adding testimonials to your website, may I also suggest that you add contact info for your sales department (even if it’s just an email address) to your landing page. I assume you think only patrons looking for downloads are getting to that page, but the name Freegal is much better known than Library Ideas. You don’t even link back to the Library Ideas website from there to get to the contact info. Once I’ve Googled Freegal, I shouldn’t have to go back to Google to find the Library Ideas website where I might or might not find some kind of contact email. I would think you would want to make it as easy as possible for people who might want to give you money to find your contact info.

  30. Laura Shea-Clark Says:

    Thank you Sarah for a lively discussion. We are in very unsettled times, and I’m not sure how it’s going to play out. At Monday’s ebook webinar Eli Neiburger from Ann Arbor Public Library said that libraries should avoid offering services in direct competition with retail vendors. He suggested that instead we should focus on value-added services and creating our own content. Right now there is a great tension between the philosophy of patron-driven selection/bestsellers vs. librarian selection/enduring titles. Both have merit and I think what would serve us best is balance. Freegal leans more toward patron-driven selection, albeit in a limited universe of Sony titles. As a musician myself, I’m not interested in just Sony titles and certainly not just the chart toppers, but it’s not about what I want. At some point I do think our Library media collections will all be downloadable, but I’m not sure we’ve found the best model yet. I applaud Sarah and others who are fighting against DRM & other practices that get in the way of sharing content with our customers.

  31. Robert B Says:

    I am with the Friends Group of a large midwestern library that has this service. I was skeptical of the proposal from the library staff, but in the end I said, well you can’t cross the ocean if you don’t lose sight of the shore. I was happy the librarians would try something like this, and there is no doubt the patrons love it. A follow up report from staff praised the product and the company’s service. I’ve never heard of them, but they did fine by us.

    As an aside, I’d say this blog and some of the respondents smack of a personal agenda. It’s almost an angry mob of disgruntled folks who don’t really make the decisions at their library. Meanwhile the decision makers seem to write in liking it. I found the strangest response to be the librarian who complained the service only has 45% of popular singles! Brian Downing, whoever you are, you might want to put that in the testimonials on your website. If only libraries were doing that well with ebooks, we would have something.

    I’m a big fan of having a perspective. I like that my library has a perspective and tried this. So far, so good.

  32. Melissa DeWild Says:

    My library signed up for Freegal in July 2010, and we have had a positive experience with it. My sales rep has been great to work with, and the company has been very responsive to the few issues our patrons have had.

    We started with buying a block of downloads, which was the only option at the time. I do not recommend this. We switched to the “unlimited” version as soon as it was available since we were hitting our download caps very quickly. Since switching to this model, it is one of our most used electronic resources, and patrons love it.

    My only complaint is that searching on the Freegal site isn’t great. I generally have to use the alphabetical artist listing to find what I want rather than the search box.

  33. Jen H from NH Says:

    @ Robert: I am the director at my library, not a member of an “angry mob of disgruntled folks” and I am one of the respondents opposed to Freegal for public libraries. My issue is not with the performance of the product but the fundamental premise of Freegal. And your remark about a personal agenda is puzzling. This blog is about library issues, the respondents are nearlyall librarians and we DO all have an agenda: superior, responsible library service to our community. We may disagree about the best way to deliver that service, but for this blog that is everyone’s very obvious agenda.

  34. Mary S.G. Says:

    I was not technically the decision maker but our library did go with Freegal. It was a controversial decision among the staff. One staff member thought it was too good to be true and called Sony to see if it was for real! We went with it and now we are all glad we did. The patron response has been overwhelming positive and we are in a high tech area. I guess perhaps I don’t notice some of the things others have said about the site, but when I compare it to our ebook product or our audio book product, or even Itunes (!) it looks great, and works even better. I know it does not have every music company but if we all waited for that, we might still be carrying 8 track tapes!

  35. Tim Says:

    Brian, since you’ve shown that you consider it worth your time to respond here, would you mind addressing the (apparently) quite unethical intimidation Sarah experienced at her previous job?

    Fair warning for what may seem like an unfair situation to you… Sarah is kind of a trusted name to a lot of us, so simply saying “my records show differently,” as most of your other responses boil down to, isn’t going to be 100% convincing…

  36. Clara Hudson Says:

    I have always considered myself an optimist. That has become tempered with pragmatism as my experience in “libraries” gains breadth and depth, leaving me with pragmatic optimism, which seems an oxymoron, but essential in operating and my personal sanity all the same. Do I have techno-lust? You bet. Do I want to provide the most cutting edge content and formats available to library users? Absolutely. Am I 100% happy with library vendors? Never. Will I continue to pay for and purchase content based products? Yes, making educated choices based on user need, demand, quality of content all while negotiating the best price. That is my job. I put the word “libraries” in quotations because I see it more frequently used as a term that is interchangeable with a singular entity or voice that has the ability to do “something”. It can’t (pragmatism). I have a developed a diminishing tolerance for hearing libraries should…..develop a mythological platform for providing econtent that publishers and copyright owners would flock to and has the capacity work with all user end devices. And if said platform were developed by “libraries” then would it be free and available to all? Where would it live technologically, who would support and maintain? “Libraries?” I suspect that once developed the “developer” would want compensation. I am a huge fan of creative idealism but in a public service demand driven environment like “libraries” which admittedly share common ideals are actually unique and individual in responding to the public served. Temper with pragmatism, idealism, for strive as we may 100% satisfaction is never a guarantee.

  37. Brian Downing Says:

    @Tim: Tim, I read a lot of blogs, and I respond all the time when I think I can provide information that is useful to the community. I try not to be just an advocate for my company, but to be a source of useful information. Reading blogs and listservs is probably only second to actually visiting with libraries as the best way to keep in touch with the market.

    I don’t know what to say about the “unethical intimidation”. I wasn’t at the meeting. I have known our person who was there for 15 years. As a manager, I deal with first hand information rather than in this case, third hand information. I have spoken with people very high up at San Jose and Santa Clara, and I don’t think either one of these people could be intimidated, and I don’t see my guy as that type. After 18 years in Public Libraries I have heard about people that don’t like so and so, but I’m not getting anything corroborating on this individual on bullying tactics. And I personally talk with California librarians almost every week. So I don’t know what happened at this meeting, but for your consideration, here is the email Sarah sent to the person she accuses of being a bully right after the meeting. I don’t know, if they were so bad, do you send them a thank you note? (some information is redacted, I did not think I should bring other parties into it).

    From: Houghton-Jan, Sarah []
    Sent: Tuesday, November 09, 2010 6:33 PM
    To: xxxxxxxxx (blocked out by me)
    Subject: xxxxxxxx’s information

    Thank you for taking the time to come to SJPL today.

    Our eResources Librarian returns to work November 22nd, and will be handling all licensing, contract, sales, and demo questions. Her contact information is:

    Sarah Houghton-Jan
    Digital Futures Manager, San José Public Library
    “Don’t just stand there and shout it. Do something about it.”

    As far as the other allegations go, how do you prove something doesn’t exist if it doesn’t exist? How would I prove there were no patron complaints if there were no patron complaints? How do I prove Sarah never contacted us (except for the email above) if she never did. Isn’t it up to Sarah to prove that she did?

    I don’t have to oppose your feelings toward Sarah. That can exist and what you feel can be true. I can defend my company and my products though, and I can do that, and not be in opposition to anything but misstatements. I have no issues with anyone’s criticisms of the website, etc, that’s just feedback that will make us better, and I embrace it. Hope that answers your question Tim.

    Brian Downing

  38. Sarah Says:

    @Henry – I’m very glad to hear your response. I agree that implementation choices (e.g. do you have a weekly limit or not) is a big part of whether the product will be successful. I would advise against the weekly limit if you have Freegal, but the problem with that is then what happens when you run out of your yearly paid allocation of downloads? As you get more successful, and more users want to use the product, you end up with the decision to either keep dishing costs out to the company on an as-needed basis, or going with the unaffordable (for many) plan where an unlimited # of users get 3 downloads per week. Both choices are expensive. I am the *last* person who would rail against a new type of service in favor of an older, traditional model. Trying new things is the core of my professional and personal identity. But along with the willingness to move forward and look at new models, we must also carry with us a rational measured response to products that are not the best use of our communities’ dollars. And the comments about the website are not low blows. The user interface is poor, with poor browsing and poor searching. I don’t understand why you say that’s a low blow. Re: your remark about CDs — has your library diverted money from your CD budget to Freegal instead? And I totally disagree with the arguments that if we all just buy Freegal, it will get better and cheaper. That is a huge assumption, and one I am not willing to arbitrarily throw my library’s dollars at. And Henry, you really think what I’m saying about Freegal is simply Group Think? I would say that putting myself out there like this is not group think — it’s a quite individual choice, and derived from personal experience. That’s not Group Think.

    @everyone – I wanted to discuss briefly the issue of cost and funding. My current library’s per capita funding is $43.01. My previous library’s per capita funding is $37.83. Two of the librarians from libraries who have spoken in favor of Freegal in this comment thread have per capita funding $80.02 and $87.73 respectively. Perhaps if I had twice as much money to spend on my customers, I would be more able to afford an expensive product like Freegal. However, I still object to the underlying model of the product and would not do so myself.

    @Heather – I encourage you to ask your consortium members about their satisfaction with Freegal. I know of at least two in that group that are unhappy. There are probably others that love it. But I don’t think the joy is actually universal.

    @Brian Downing – Comments on my site go up immediately and I only take things down that violate my two rules (listed above the comment box). Of course I would post your response.
    Saying that people who don’t like your product because they weren’t involved in the decision making process is irrational. If someone was not involved in a decision at their library and should have been, then those feelings are appropriately directed at the library and librarians involved. The unhappiness with your product is a different thing entirely, and based on facts and opinions about the concept of the product. Please do not confuse the two.
    I am stunned to read that you say not a single call or email came in from San Jose Public Library. That is simply untrue. I would love to be able to send you and post copies of all the mail I sent, but I no longer work for SJPL so I don’t have access to my email history. And, as mandated by City of San Jose policy, I did not keep copies of emails after I left the job. I can’t change that. All I can do is to swear publicly that I’m not lying. I sent messages and called numbers I was told to use by your company. I reported the problems I was having to my managers on an ongoing basis, so they were informed of my attempts to contact Freegal and get help during the entire process. They could corroborate that these things happened and that I was reporting problems over a long period of time. After our eResources Librarian returned to her job to take over contact with Freegal, she had the same experience — no response to requests for help and comments. It wasn’t just me who had the experience. Just logically speaking, why would I lie about that? How does that benefit me? I have plenty of reasons that I don’t like the product without making stuff up. There is no motivating factor there to be dishonest. To say I’m lying might defray some damage to your company’s image, but it’s underhanded and untrue.
    Your sales people have promised additional content to me, and to other librarians (as they tell me anyway). You might want to check in with your sales staff on the words they’re allowed to use when talking about future enhancements.
    And regarding the email you posted here that I sent to your sales rep after the meeting, are you saying that me being polite in an email is corroboration that I thought the salesperson was nice and warm and fuzzy? Our eResources Librarian was out on leave, coming back, and I needed to forward her contact information to the rep. Saying thank you for coming into the library was common courtesy.
    And finally, are you saying that no one from your company called my supervisor to ask/tell her to ask/tell me to remove or alter my blog post about online music companies, including Freegal (which incidentally said some rather nice things about the product too)?

  39. Brian Downing Says:


    I think this is turning into somewhat of a public spectacle, so I will just stand by what I have written already.

    I grew up in Marshfield, Massachusetts, and the Ventress Library was the place in town I knew best, after school and home. Most of my career has been spent doing business with Public Libraries, and I can’t think of any service to them which could come from continuing to have this discussion, given the way it has turned, if you’ll forgive the expression, “he said, she said.”

    If you are going to ALA, I would be happy to meet with you, or talk to you by phone in the interim. My cell phone is 202.557.6301. I can tell you that if anyone can provide information about bullying, that person would no longer be part of this organization. I have to have a little more than an allegation to ruin someone’s career though.

    Brian Downing

  40. Tim Says:

    Like I said Brian, I recognize it’s not entirely fair to every business, but I have seen poor documentation practices (whether purposeful or not), particularly in the customer service field, too often to give the benefit of the doubt to a multi-employee business over a single consumer who was so affected by her service that she took the time to describe in such detail that experience. Unless you tell me your management style involves being handcuffed to your staff.

    I’m always amazed when managers will so gladly and immediately appear combative toward customers (whether past, current, or potential) in order to avoid saying “Gee. I could’ve sworn we had all our bases covered. I have no idea how this slipped through the cracks. I’ll make sure no empty promises are being made, and thanks for reminding me to check up on that stuff. I’ll even let you know if I can figure out how this misunderstanding happened, so that you – and any potential future customers – know that I follow through.” It’s tough to remember (even for righteous old me) when your name’s being dragged through the mud, but all sincere feedback is valuable.

  41. p.s. I am not a crackpot. | SarahGlassmeyer(dot)com Says:

    [...] Houghton-Jan briefly mentioned some reasons why librarians may not do it. I agree with those reasons, especially the fear of [...]

  42. Noel Rutherford Says:

    I work for a large urban library system and we were one of the first to add Freegal – and I don’t regret it for a moment. Usage keeps rising and although their search engine definitely needs improvment and we would love to see more labels, our customers haven’t complained since they get to download DRM free music without the hastle of placing holds and finding time to pick up and return the discs. Our music cd’s were all walking out the door or were being ripped for download anyway. Our cost per circ for music (discounting processing and cataloging) was $2.79 – it is now $1.09. I feel very pleased that we can offer this product as it is cost effective, convenient and allows the tax payers access to music they want – not what we think they should want. I think Sarah is wrong when she says this model will hurt libraries in the long term economically. Would it be better to purchase material that doesn’t circulate well, gets either damaged or stolen and that later is “weeded”? Patron driven acquisition justifies funding of public libraries by eliminating waste (purchase of material that is not checked out).

    Is pay-per-download the best model? It is if publishers, studios and labels won’t allow public libraries access to their content as is the case for ebooks from Simon & Schuster and MacMillan. Our choices are limited – let’s talk to Freegal about how librarians can help improve their product, not knock them for trying to provide a popular format no other vendor seems willing to explore (Magnatune does not offer enough popular content).

  43. Anna Seaberg Says:

    Sarah: I remember your post on Freegal from last Sept. Right on the money, as is this one. The two most salient points:
    Pay-per-use. This is not a library model.
    Sole-source. One publisher may or may not make a broad content universe; it absolutely makes for a tiny universe as far as economics go.

    You know, truly digital natives think that waiting in line for a download (how can downloads be “all checked out”?) is nuts. The Freegal model is a counter to that valid objection, but a bad one.

    A better model is the way that article databases work. Not pay-per-use, and no waiting.

    Thanks for the post.

    Anna Seaberg

  44. Heather Says:

    Sarah, re the happiness of Califa members with Freegal – Santa Clara County didn’t order through us, so I can’t comment on their renewal/happiness. All of the other libraries who ordered through us renewed except SJPL. Several upgraded through the year to the “unlimited” plan, which, sadly, we don’t have discounted pricing for. So I’m just going off of that. You’re right, though, that it would be a good idea to check in with the members who have it and see what feedback they can offer. I will do that within the next few weeks. Thanks!

  45. Diane Says:

    I am not sure why there is so much controversy over Freegal. I have been using it since Los Gatos Library started offering it, and I love it. I have never used iTunes, and was a little apprehensive about trying it, but I found it easy to use, and was very satisfied with the experience. I continue to use it on a regular basis, and encourage others to try it.

    I realize I’m a little prejudiced because I also happen to be one of the librarians who work at Los Gatos Library, but I was present when the Freegal representative told our staff about his product, and all of us were enthusiastic about having it as one of the services we provide. And we continue to be enthusiastic!

  46. Brad Allen Says:

    I don’t understand why Freegal can’t offer a better deal than $1.20 or more per download. I am a subscriber to which has pretty much all the Sony stuff as well as hundreds, maybe thousands of record labels. Prices per download range from $.49 to $.89, most on the lower end. I am a SINGLE subscriber, paying about ten bucks a month. I wish emusic would get into the library game and provide some much needed competition.

    Libraries are signing up for big commitments money-wise, yet the per download cost is so high. Why would I waste so much money when I can get 20 to 200 checkouts on a CD that costs $5 to $15? If your library can afford such an expensive stopgap, that’s great, but I find this to be a huge waste of taxpayers’ dollars. Addressing the issue of this product being popular, of course it’s popular–WE’RE GIVING MUSIC AWAY FOR FREE and spending lots of money in the process. OK, rant over, but kudos to Sarah for saying something so publicly about something I’ve been grumbling about for months.

  47. Marsha Leclair-Marzolf Says:

    We have had only good experiences with Freegal and have found that we are reaching segments of our community that have not previously had a library card. Customers and a high number of teens are singing up for a card so they can use Freegal and we have also found that a high percent of Freegal users are babyboomers. We have few to no problems with the service and customers love it. We have had over 13,000 downloads a month which means we are well on our way to a yearly total that will transltate to paying less than $1.00 per use. I doubt if you costed out your database use it would be that low, I know our average database cost per view is $2.35 and some database use runs as high as $7 or $8 per view.

  48. Mary Says:

    Our library (staff & patrons) are big supporters of Freegal — the product and the company. We started offering Freegal to our patrons last June and it has been even better than we hoped. We started out with the limited number of downloads per week, now we have the unlimited plan. The usage has increased almost 400% in the last 10 months; patrons love it! They applaud our willingness to try something new especially because it responds to what they want and need. It even has spurred renewed interest in our CD collection.
    We have been incredibly impressed with the responsiveness and helpfulness of Freegal’s staff; the sales representative, support staff and CEO have been professtional and easy to work with.
    The items mentioned — website, collection — have not hindered our patrons’ use; we have received almost no complaints or concerns — almost unheard of; this has been one of the easiest new service to offer, ever.
    We see Freegal as win, win.

  49. Sarah Houghton-Jan (Librarian in Black) Says:

    @Brian Downing – I have no problem leaving it as “he said, she said.” I would ask, like Tim, that you try to take this feedback constructively. I tried getting help privately (I truly, truly did). Like you, I prefer to deal with individual issues privately if possible. I felt after a sustained period of bad experiences that it wasn’t possible. Therefore, here we are publicly. I will be at ALA and would welcome the chance to speak with you. I can drop by the booth or we can set up a time in advance. Thank you for making that offer.

  50. Sarah Houghton-Jan (Librarian in Black) Says:

    @Marsha – I’m distressed on your behalf that your database cost per use is so high. The average at the 4 public libraries I’ve worked at is usually 5 cents to 15 cents for general article databases, and usually around 50 cents for more specialized resources. Either we just have super high usage and/or super low costs in our area, or the converse is true. I would advise you to look at your usage and promotion of eResources because that just sounds awfully high to me.

  51. Tiffany Says:

    This a very strong case against this service. I also had misgivings about this vendor, but never could articulate it as well. Especially, I love the use of ‘frelling.’ ;)

  52. Ellen Druda Says:

    I already commented about this on Facebook, but here’s just a quick chime-in to say we are happy with freegal too. Unlike a lot of other media (ebooks, ahem…) patrons and staff have absolutely no trouble downloading and accessing the music, even among our most techno-phobic. I wish other media publishers (ebooks, ahem…) would follow this model.

  53. Debbie Moss Says:

    I’m coming to the party rather late it seems but I’m compelled to share that we’re a happy Freegal provider with a per cap income of $26.45. We’ve got a continually growing user base and people telling us that they are finally happy to see their taxes invested this way. I consider the system and our users lucky that we’re willing to explore and take a risk and not be held hostage to a few other bad experiences. I don’t know what went wrong for or with other folks but I know that our own experience has been postive for the library and most importantly for our users. Maybe it’s just about the effort you’re willing to make. In my library, it’s not about us, it’s about them. If it’s what the patrons want. we’re here to make it work.

  54. Cam Ha Says:

    We’ve had the Freegal sales pitch and I was resistant to adopting it because during the trial version which was the 3 download limit version, I found that if I stopped the download midway and didn’t get the entire MP3 it subtracted partial/bad downloads as part of the library’s 3 download limit. I wonder if they ever fixed that problem.
    Also, the selection is somewhat limited. I could buy a lot more CDs and music for the amount of money Freegal costs. We still have high CD checkout stats and I don’t think Freegal is a high demand service. It would serve a niche market of tech savvy patrons which the majority of our community is not. Thank you for your honest evaluation of Freegal – it just gives me more support in my argument that our library is not ready for it yet.

  55. Matt Says:

    My library has been offering Freegal for a few months and people like it. I have been the main contact with them from the beginning. My experience with the people at Library Ideas has been pretty positive. I have received quick responses to questions and have never felt bullied.
    I do worry about the sustainability of the service though. It’s not cheap and it is not a core service. We may not renew our service if things don’t improve financially.

  56. Anonymous Says:

    After reading this entire exchange (including all of the comments), I can safely say I will never use Freegal.

    One reason is because I think the concerns raised about the Freegal business model are perfectly valid. Why would we spend over $1 per song when only one patron can use it? That is unsustainable for library budgets.

    The second reason is because of Brian Downing’s responses, or should I say the lack thereof? Not only did he do nothing to address Sarah’s specific concerns, but he became combative and did his best to question her without resorting to outright nastiness. I’m sorry, but that is NOT how you run a business. If someone feels that you have screwed up, even if you don’t think you did, you A) apologize and B) apologize some more. Then you try to rectify the situation by addressing their concerns. If you can’t address their concerns – like not having the “evidence” to prove your salesman was a bully – then you need to do something to make the client feel better. Offer a true one-of-a-kind deal to sweeten the situation. You certainly don’t turn around and start attacking the client. Congratulations Brian, you’ve single-handedly shown all of us that bullying is an inherent part of Freegal’s business model.

  57. Anonymous Says:

    Sorry, the second sentence of the last paragraph should read: “Not only did he do nothing to address Sarah’s specific concerns, but he became combative and did his best to question her *character* without resorting to outright nastiness.”

  58. Mary Sanderson Gill Says:

    My goodness what an incendiary post. If there is a bully in this discourse, I think we just heard from him/her. I hope this “anonymous” post is not from the profession and merely doing it for commercial reasons. Any impartial person would say the blog was an attack on the company and individuals who work there. The response could be seen as somewhat of an attack right back, and neither side had any evidence that convinced me. I really didn’t think most writers were giving me much information. I was impressed that they agreed to meet and discuss and move on. Way to go folks!

    What’s strikingly missing from this whole debate, in my humble opinion, is a vision. Perhaps the sole exception was Debbie Moss’s post. Their vision is to serve the customer and not take pre-conceived ideas of their own and make that the library experience. The rest, I see a lot of Goldilocks (this bed is too small), but I don’t see a lot of entrepreneurial and forward thinking. It’s so easy to sit and gripe, but if you are not in the game, I don’t see how you can be part of an intelligent discussion.

    We bought into Freegal, so far so good. I’d like to see them come out with ebooks and movies. Don’t like it? Don’t buy it. But try to limit the options we have in the marketplace? I’m hoping for more options. I don’t think we can sit here and pretend to know the behind the scenes economics.

    I suspect we will stick with Freegal as long as they continue to deliver. I have no idea if it is sustainable or not, but I guess we will find out.

    Meanwhile I will be looking for more adventurous companies with future-looking products to do business with. I intend to listen carefully to them, and keep my finger on the pulse of the patron’s wishes.

  59. Anonymous Says:

    Wow. I’m a bully because I dared to speak up against Brian’s poor handling of this situation? He did everything he should not have done in a very public PR crisis. It reminds me a lot of this recent situation: (be sure to read the comments).

    Yes, Sarah wrote a provocative post. Does that mean her concerns are invalid, simply because she was upset? As a fellow librarian, I am glad she posted what she did. I want to hear when my colleagues have trouble with vendors. And because Sarah spoke up, others have too. It appears that Sarah is not the only one who has received poor treatment from this vendor.

    I am just as eager as you to hear about the next great vision for service, and to have many options as our society moves forward technologically. I’m honestly glad that you and your patrons have had no trouble with Freegal, as a company or as a service. But to discredit everyone else in this thread (except Debbie Moss) by saying they have poor vision and unintelligent arguments is, frankly, an attempt to force everyone else into submissive silence. Judging by the passion in your response, I’m guessing that you feel personally attacked because you have been well served by Freegal and can’t relate to most of the respondants here. I would encourage you not to take this thread so personally. No one has discredited or attacked anyone on here for saying that they have found the service useful.

    There are many valid and intelligent concerns being made here about usability, pricing, service, and so on. The commenters on this blog have the right to speak their minds. And just as importantly, you have something to gain from it as well. If Freegal listens to the comments in this thread and uses them to improve their service and their system, then you will also benefit in the long run.

  60. tom Says:

    Our library passed on Freegal after a week’s demo for several reasons:

    1. the expense was unjustifiable. That’s been well discussed here.

    2. The search function was unmanageable. If the Beatles’ music were on Freegal (it isn’t) where would you find it. Under B?
    No, under T (THE Beatles). And Bruce Springsteen (a Sony artist) Under B (alphabetized by first name). When this shortcoming was mentioned to the sales person, we were told that was the way Sony indexed, and there would be no improvement on it. Deal with it.
    Searching by genre is chancy. One group represented in the Freegal database is The Chieftains. To be found under Irish Music?
    Astonishingly, no. The vast number of genres represented was offered as a selling point, but the large number of nearly empty categories works against itself.

    3. The download limit of three per week is unfortunate for people acquiring popular music. But what about the poor classical listener who has to download the first three movements of a work, then wait ’til next week for the finale? How long would it take to download an opera? Months?

    4. As several people pointed out, the prime objection is the philosophical change required by buying things for individuals to keep
    versus buying a collection to loan. We have to move into the future, and downloaded music is clearly the future, and the future is upon us. But we need a business model for downloaded music that is compatible with our core philosophy as public institutions.

  61. Mary S Says:

    My Assistant Director forwarded this blog post to me. We are also happy Freegal customers. Our patrons love it and it has brought people into the library to see what else we offer. We have only had one complaint since we started the service. We even got an unsolicited plug at a recent Village City Council meeting for Freegal and our downloadable audiobooks.

    Mary Soucie
    Three Rivers Library
    Channahon/Minooka IL

  62. Links of interest: April 15th, 2011 « A Modern Hypatia Says:

    [...] technology that’s been getting a lot of conversation is Freegal. Sarah takes on some of the problems with both the service and the theory behind it. Extensive discussion in comments, which are in and of themselves a really interesting object lesson [...]

  63. Mike Says:

    Anonymous -

    Where are you getting “It appears that Sarah is not the only one who has received poor treatment from this vendor.”? She seems to be the only one in this thread who has had such an experience. The thread is split between people who have implemented Freegal and are generally pleased with it (my library is one of that camp) and those who have rejected it for either economic or philosophical reasons. I haven’t seen anyone speak up in support of these unethical allegations.

    I think there’s nothing wrong with a provocative post, but I have yet to see anyone who has experienced the problems that Sarah has. Brian Downing’s response was totally reasonable as this does appear to be he said/she said situation. And frankly, if I were a vendor being bashed by a former employee of one of my customers, I would feel particular reluctance to air dirty laundry with them in public. He did exactly the right thing – “talk to my satisified customers”.

  64. Anonymous Says:


    From David Lee King’s post: “And the customer service of their salesforce? Another easy fix. Get better sales staff. That aren’t rude and condescending (I’ve heard this from multiple librarians).”

    Also, part of the problem might be that people aren’t saying it on here, but they’re saying it elsewhere. I came to this blog from a Facebook post. People were leaving comments on that post that backed up Sarah’s experience about the sales service (and other concerns). Like Sarah wrote in her blog post, people talk behind closed doors – but not in public.

    I hate to keep dragging this dead horse since Sarah and Brian have already agreed to meet and discuss their concerns offline, but to respond to what you wrote about being okay with the “talk to my satisfied customers” approach, that is one of the things that rubs me the wrong way about Brian’s post. I completely agree with you that a vendor should be reluctant to air dirty laundry in public, but that isn’t what happened here. Brian’s initial post essentially calls Sarah a liar in every way possible (he questions her concerns about the products, questions the amount of times she contacted his company and so forth). In a public PR crisis, the rep of a business should not get hyper defensive and further offend the client. Instead, he should have done everything possible to smooth feathers rather than ruffle them even more, no matter how vicious or untruthful he perceived Sarah to be. After all, it isn’t just us reading this blog. Sarah is well known in the library field. There are thousands of other eyes reading this that choose to remain silent on here, but talk behind closed doors.

  65. Jennifer Webb Says:

    Noel Rutherford said, in a comment above, that Freegal was cost-effective compared to buying CDs (unless I misunderstood?) “Our cost per circ for music (discounting processing and cataloging) was $2.79 – it is now $1.09.” Where does the $2.79 figure come from? Was that your estimated cost per circ for a CD? I’ve been hearing that the cost per (1 song) download with Freegal is around $1, but wouldn’t the cost per song with a CD be much lower? Leaving out the issue of piracy, of course, which we have no way to prevent with our physical CD collection. My library is considering Freegal, and my main concern is the cost, so I’d really appreciate any insights.

  66. Hutch Tibbetts Says:

    Apparently, Sarah had a much different experience than we had.

    In the 8-1/2 months we’ve had the service, there have been more than 32,000 downloads from more than 2,800 patrons. In that time, we’ve only had 45 questions on it. While she reported receiving hundreds of complaints, we’ve received less than five since we started. And those weren’t because the service wasn’t good, but because they couldn’t find even more. Which raises the point that no one else is offering anything remotely close to what they’ve done with another music distributor. Given our saving on damaged and replacement costs, saved shelf space inside our libraries, and the simple fact that our statistics prove we’re offering something our patrons want, I’d say that perhaps their model just didn’t work for her. It seems to be for us.

  67. Carrie Says:

    I have had a very different experience with Freegal. The salesman was very easy to work with and basically leaves me alone unless I call him. He did not contact me, I contacted him for information. Beyond “normal” call backs while I was making the decision, he did not pressure me.

    We went live in January and the service has been very well received. (We have the unlimited downloads plan.) From January 1 to April 18 we have had 3,614 customers download 19,355 songs. The IT department informed me this was the easiest installation they have ever done; and I have taken 5 customer questions about using Freegal. Most of those have been issues with their library account not anything to do with Freegal.

    I have had some staff question the fact that the library is now giving away material. I, however, think of Freegal as a database. We have not really concerend ourselves with what happens to the pdf of the articles our customers save to flash drives, email or print. Is it because it is music, that we question the usage after it is downloaded?

    I also think of this as a part of the collection. I often receive requests to purchase music CDs that have only the artist/group name and the name of a song. When I receive one of these reuqests I now log into Freegal and search for the song. If I find it, I contact the customer and let them know that the song is available as a free download with their library card or I can purchase the CD and call them when it arrives (OK. I won’t call when it arrives, the automated system will.) In every case, the customer has chosen to download the song rather than wait for the music CD to arrive and be processed at the library. Now I have made the customer’s day with great service and saved room in our too tight collection of music CDs.

    We also have Overdrive music through our state-wide consortium and while it is used, it is not to the extent that Freegal is used. I have received many more complaints and questions about Oerdrive than about Freegal. I would not advocate getting rid of the Overdrive music. Both of these products serve my users.

    I love this service and so do our customers.

  68. Lilja Karadottir Says:

    Hi all,
    I just did a minimal digging on When I did a look up on whois for them there was very little information about them other then they are sponsored by Library Ideas, LLC. I then looked up and the same happened, barely any information on who is and just like freegalmusic they only had one webpage.
    I when I do anykind of shopping or looking for work on the web I always perform a whois on the webpage if it looks to “sparse” or incomplete. Basically if it strikes me odd then I do a whois search. The look of the web pages for both and put up some massive red flags, and the whois results made the sirens go off. For the amount of money you are paying for this service they should be offering SO much more then what they got. I would say be very careful with both freegal and library ideas.
    Does anyone ever do any investigation into the vendors you are buying from? Especially when it comes to the digital resources?
    And just an FYI, I am not a librarian but am studying to be one, but thought I would put my two cents in here.

  69. Sarah Says:

    @ Mike: Let me clarify one last thing. I did try my hardest to discuss my problems with Freegal while I worked for my last library. I emailed and called repeatedly, different people and addresses, including the CEO himself. And I got a whole lot of nothing in response. Literally, nothing. No “thanks for your thoughts,” no “we appreciate feedback.” I got nothing. This is not like I took some weird personal grudge and automatically aired it publicly just to snipe and embarrass someone. I tried the “right” way. And that didn’t make it. After hearing many other negative experiences voiced privately (and I certainly do wish more of these folks felt safe enough to speak up), I felt like I had enough bad experiences to make it worthwhile to say something. And hey – look at that! I even got a response from Freegal finally. But let me be absolutely clear on my biggest problem with the company’s product: the pay-per-use model is a fiscally imprudent investment and an unsustainable model for any library long-term. That is why I won’t buy a product with this model of distribution.

  70. AKP Says:

    I guess you are right that librarians are a quiet type of people, but there is a new generation on the way at least here in Northern Europe. Now as a librarian you need to stay updated on many things and that requires some additional skills :)

  71. John Arcadian Says:

    Thanks for the great article. I’m one of the I.T. guys for my library and just found out that we purchased Freegal. Never heard a thing about it until I was told to work with the freegal people to set it up. Looking over what little info we got, it doesn’t impress me.Thanks for posting your review of it.

    p.s. Nice insertion of the word frelling.

  72. music_librarian Says:

    I am an academic librarian, and I first heard about freegal at a conference last winter. I think that Sarah brings up the most salient point when she notes that libraries have never purchased materials with the intent of giving them away permanently. A core tenet of our profession is building collections that are accessible to multiple users. By giving away music, you’ve turned the whole model on its head. How long do you think it will be before some politician argues that there’s no need to fund public libraries, since they’re giving away materials paid for with taxpayer dollars? Why not just cut taxes and let people buy their own music? Note that I’m not advocating for this position, but I don’t think that you can discount this possibility.

    I am extremely frustrated that there is no iTunes model for libraries. I would gladly pay more per track if I could then store it on a server and lend it to my users. That would be a model more in line with our traditional collection building and access roles.

  73. Sarah Says:

    @John: Thanks :) “Frelling” is an underused word and Farscape is an underappreciated science fiction masterpiece :)

  74. Kristine Says:

    Wow, this is quite a thread! I am not a public librarian and I don’t have any experience with Freegal.

    I’m not entirely certain where the “he said/she said” complaints are coming from. This post is primarily composed of specific complaints from Sarah’s own experience in working with Freegal. This post doesn’t read “My friend Jenny told me Company X is lousy.” This post, written on her own time on her own webpage, cites her frustration with customer service and sales (first hand), patron complaints (which she received, processed and forwarded), and the price and accessibility of the product (also not hearsay).

    While Anonymous’s comment (#56) may have been a bit on the snarky side (re his/her closing sentence), I had the exact same reaction to Mr. Downing’s comments. This is my first encounter with Freegal and rather than a PR rep who seems to be working to repair a situation, I only saw a defensive response, making me think that Freegal isn’t a company of problem-solvers or one dedicated to customer satisfaction. I think Anonymous is right in critiquing Mr. Downing’s comment; a simple “I’m sorry that your correspondence was not received and addressed” rather than a “you never sent any emails since we don’t have any from you” would have been a much more constructive response. Sarah is an unhappy customer (and I, presumably, am a potential one) and Freegal only repelled her (and myself) further away. This was a PR opportunity to sell Freegal (their image, mission, product, etc.) to new customers. The image that Mr. Downing just sold me was one of a company that doesn’t care about their client’s satisfaction.

    After reading the initial post, my reaction was “what a bummer. Freegal sounds like it could have been really cool” and I very much wanted to be convinced that it actually was and Sarah’s experiences were an anomaly. All of the posts from pro-Freegal libraries were promising (and I’m glad that you’ve had better experiences!) but Mr. Downing failed to carry through.

    Also, I am glad that Freegal has dedicated its resources to providing the best product possible (really. no sarcasm. A company that spends all its resources on a flashy page, but doesn’t have a good product isn’t worth much), but it doesn’t cost $10,000 to at least put some contact info and some sort of product promotion (what makes Freegal stand out from other library services? Tell me! I want to know!), even if it is just text. No fancy graphics necessary; just some more information. Maybe some examples of the products I could get if my library subscribed? People *want* to be sold things and a website for your company is the best place to advertise — so easy and you already own the domain. For a company that says its products ARE websites, I am surprised by their uninspiring web presence.

    Thanks to Sarah and everyone else who has shared their opinions, whether positive or negative. Keep sharing; the more information we have, the more able we are to make the best decisions.

  75. Stee Benson Says:

    This has been an interesting dialog to read through and I find my thoughts mirrored in many ways. Comments on Publib about the service have been almost univerally positive both in the library staff’s view of the service and reported public reception of the service. I’ve had a single meeting with Brian Downing and found him to be likeable and sincere and with a long history of service to libraries as a vendor. I don’t doubt either Brian’s or Sarah’s accounts. But, I will comment hat a business relationship gone sour can come from innocent miscommunications, missteps, comments or actions that were carried out half baked . . . but a single experience doesn’t necessarily define what the experience as a rule will be.

    I don’t favor Freegal because I can’t wrap my mind around the very different model of purchase of a limited resource for ownership by individual patrons. As a librarian it’s a philosophical issue for me. I wouldn’t consider doing this with print books and the sexiness of this service can’t overcome my reluctance. As a manager of a city department, how can I justify using public money to purchase something that I can’t afford to give to everybody and that I will not be able to meet demand? However, don’t I do this when I buy just a few copies of the latest blockbuster ovie or best selling book? Perhaps one could justify the service just by looking at the costs of this modelof service and the traditional one of acquiring materials for collective use via borrowing. Once I buy that CD, DVD, or book to repeadedly lend out, m cost doesn’t end there. There is the cost of staff to check the item out and then (hopefully) check it back in and reshelve it. There is the cost of maintaining the physical space to house it and staff time to conside whether physical space should be retained for any particular item or if it should be weeded so something else can take its place. It could be that the cost of buying and giving away is more economical than all thse other potential ongoing costs. I haven’t attempted to do these economic calculations and justifications because I can’t get past my basic philosophical difference with the model. But that’s only just me . . . right now.

  76. Myles Jaeschke Says:

    music_librarian Says: I am extremely frustrated that there is no iTunes model for libraries. I would gladly pay more per track if I could then store it on a server and lend it to my users. That would be a model more in line with our traditional collection building and access roles.

    I enthusiastically 2nd this comment. I’d love to see a vendor or a publisher that would sell me “files” directly so we could host them securely on our own servers and loan. Yes, this is worth more than the individual product and I too would be willing to pay for a “perpetual rights” file. This could work for music, books and films, but it also has to be profitable enough for publishers for it to work. I am tired are 3rd party vendors squeezing libraries for services we could easily take care of on our own.

  77. John Vallier Says:

    I agree with music_librarian and Myles Jaeschke, but I don’t think the music industry is going to offer reasonable licensing fees and terms to libraries, even if they do recognize us as a potential market. We recently contacted the LA Philharmonic about purchasing a few iTunes-only Dudamel recordings for the Univ. of Washington Libraries and it’s users. LA Phil sent the request to Deutsche Grammophon in UK, who then sent it back to Universal Music Group in LA. UMG said they could work out a temporary license of no more than 2 years for no more than 25% of an album’s worth of material. Processing fee would be $250. Final bill “would be more than that.” We declined.

    I believe the music industry, film industry, and soon enough the book industry (even in in light of the recent Kindle/Overdrive news) are going exclude content from libraries that is popular enough for mass consumption, UNLESS libraries are willing to pay an unreasonable amount for the material and/or play an absurd middleman role by giving the stuff away (as with Freegal).

    In light of this, should we try another approach? At the last Music Library Association meeting there was some *hypothetical* discussion of confronting the download-only dilemma through publicized library disobedience: i.e., collectively downloading an iTunes or Amazon only file for our libraries/archives on a single day and promoting the act widely in order to raise awareness. Maybe do it on the proposed Music Library Day? Or on UNESCO’s World Day for Audiovisual Heritage (Oct 27)? Or Fair Use Day? Or, are we too risk averse to consider this? The alternative is troubling: we’ll be entrusting longterm preservation and access to a large swath of the historical record to corporations. Not good. Just look to the recent news about Google Video or to older news about the first ten years of the Tonight Show taped over by NBC. Similar examples are amble for music. Soon enough we’ll be saying the same thing about e-books.

  78. Jeff Says:

    Interesting that your single biggest user complaint is the low download limit of 3 per week. Hello? It’s free. To complain that patrons ONLY get 3 free downloads a week strikes me as a tad whiny.
    Our library has a subscription to Freegal and thus far our patrons’ most common complaint is the terrible search engine on the front page. Usually I tell patrons they’ll have much better luck searching for an artist on the “Advanced Search” page.
    Other than that, patrons’ response has been pretty positive here.

  79. Curtis Says:

    The role of libraries is changing. Just because we haven’t traditionally offered a service doesn’t mean we should not consider it. And let’s face it, a large number of patrons are checking out CDs and DVDs and making copies at home. If they could easily copy books , they would! So to say libraries don’t provide content for patrons to “own” is misguided. Although Freegal’s pricing scheme is way off, in my opinion, it is a step in the right direction. Libraries need new and innovative services to compete with Netflix, iTunes, etc.

  80. Peter Schoenberg Says:

    We were the first library in Canada to go live with Freegal. We serve 800,000 citizens. Not sure if our experiences are different in Canada, but we have been very pleased with Freegal and its service so far. I was initially extremely frustrated with the search engine on their site, but after a few months they replaced it. I wish the cost per download was much lower (would like to see a significant volume discount). I was not aware of the unlimited download option (will be seeing if that is a option in Canada).

    We wanted a DRM free, easy to use service that offered popular music – at this point Freegal is the only game in town. I would love to see other labels/services offer some competition. One interesting way to look at Freegal is that you make 500,000 songs available and only pay for the ones that are actually used.

    I would also be very interested in knowing what it costs to loan a CD to a customer. The ordering, receiving, labelling, shelving, circulating, reshelving, recirculating process has considerable staff and space implications. Damage, lost and theft are big issues for our popular CD collection.

    I don’t think Freegal as it exists currently is the long term answer, but I give them credit for offering a new model and providing a service that is popular with our customers.

  81. robyn Says:

    i work at an academic library, so i had never even heard of freegal until this post. it’s just not something that we would need to offer to our patrons.

    but there are two things i find striking about the commonalities in these posts:

    1 – that you had a negative experience but still purchased the product. did you think somehow the experience would be better once you got past the rude salesperson? apparently, the experience with the rude salesperson turned into a rude patron experience. not cool.

    2 – what would have happened if ms (i’m assuming ms) librarian in black had never said anything? many of you had a negative experience either with service or support and you just kept it to yourself? so that your colleagues could go after you and have the same experience? and who is smiling like the cat that ate the canary? freegal. because they still get paid for their crappy service, support and content.

    tsk, all (minus librarian in black) should be ashamed. as my husband used to always tell our kids, “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” stand up for your patrons and don’t sell them down a techno-path that doesn’t fulfill their needs.

    hooray and bravo to librarian in black!!

  82. Scott Says:

    Great post! I am glad you shared your experiences and agree with most of your logic. My main point of contention comes with your statement,

    “Libraries typically buy one copy of something, and then lend it out to multiple users sequentially, in order to get a good return on investment. Participating in a product like Freegal means that we’re not lending anymore, we’re buying content for users to own permanently so they don’t have to pay the vendor directly themselves.”

    I can think of many analogous situations my public library is in. We subscribe to so that our residents don’t have to. That is us inserting our library between a vendor and their potential audience in order to provide a service. Often times we do that not because its cheaper for us with our bulk buying power (though that is nice), we do it for the folks who couldn’t do it for themselves at any price.

    Digital music is at its base form just data. Data = information. We are in the business of providing information, no matter if it is a book, a magazine, a subscription database article, or a piece of downloaded music.

  83. Sarah Says:

    @Scott – You make an interesting point that libraries already use their bulk buying power to get better/cheaper deals on content that we pass on to our users. But there are two big differences with the Freegal model.
    1) We aren’t getting a better deal than users would buying the content themselves. In fact, the songs are more expensive for us to provide. -and-
    2) Even with Ancestry, we’re paying for an ongoing subscription access to content. You can have 20 users in the library using Ancestry at once, and they can come back every day as much as they want over time. It’s all part of a fixed-fee subscription. Freegal’s two models have either no fixed fee & a seriously low number of content units (songs) you can provide to users before you run out -or- a high fixed fee, but all users are still limited to 3 items per week.

  84. Jean Armour Polly Says:

    Before we signed up for Freegal last fall, we performed some due diligence and contacted 5 or 6 other libraries that were Freegal users. By and large, everyone we contacted loved Freegal and said it was among the best things they had ever done for their libraries and patrons. The only negatives we heard were:
    1- “don’t sign up for the set number of downloads per week model, as patrons will use all of those up in the first day or so of each week and then there are no additional downloads for anyone else to get.”
    OK, so we did not do that and we signed up for “unlimited,” which is more expensive (sliding scale tied to your circ stats) but allows all your users three tracks per week to keep forever.
    2- “Search engine inside Freegal is better for browsing by artist and much less useful if you’re looking for something specific. and it doesn’t use keyword types of searches.”
    OK, this is absolutely true, it is an annoyance especially to us in “the biz” because we are used to better search capabilities but it doesn’t seem to be a big problem with patrons. Yes, Freegal should work with us to fix this.

    Five months down the road– people LOVE FREEGAL here. We have people we have never seen before coming in specifically to say, “I love Freegal!” Also, every hit to our webpage for Freegal login allows us to try and attract people to our other offerings, and I do think that’s also a plus. Only SONY? Hasn’t been a problem, Glee cast stuff is in there, a lot of popular and rock things we didn’t have in our collection, a lot of older stuff people REALLY love finding (I loved that I could get the whole Carole King “Tapestry” album from my wild youth in the 70s…). Did we decimate our CD budget to buy Freegal? No, we did take some CD money (and also diverted some book money) but haven’t stopped buying them because as has been pointed out, not everything is in Freegal, and also no local artists are represented and we like to support them too.

    Start thinking of Freegal less as a collection and more as a database that limits individuals to so many searches a week. I am speaking now of the “unlimited” model– unlimited number of logins, but three downloaded articles per week. It’s true that we don’t limit users to three Consumer Reports article downloads a week, but if that’s the ONLY way I could get CR online, I’d give it some consideration, just for the reach it would give me into patron convenience and satisfaction. And my patrons really love their Freegal. (Not sure how you suggest I buy things on itunes and circulate them to the public. You mean circulate them on a MP3 player? And yes we do have Overdrive but for our patrons, epub format is the big winner there, not music or audio books.)

    There’s a saying that “better is the enemy of ‘good enough.’” Meaning that if we wait for “better” we will have to wait longer for production. We decided to go into production with good enough and it’s made many patrons very happy. Is it perfect? Nope. Does it have everything? Nope. And Contract terms? We crossed things out, wrote in our own terms, told them that all expenditures were in the sunshine here and public record. Company didn’t flinch, we worked out the contract to everyone’s advantage.

    Instead of “Just Say No,” say to the company “What if?” You may be surprised.

    Jean Armour Polly
    Co-founder of PUBLIB, 1993
    Director, Liverpool Public Library Liverpool, NY

  85. Leah Says:

    Sarah– You say to Scott that with Freegal, “We aren’t getting a better deal than users would buying the content themselves. In fact, the songs are more expensive for us to provide.” But for some libraries, this may not be the case. For instance, a small to medium-sized public library might purchase an annual unlimited subscription to Freegal for $10,000 or less. This would mean that they are spending $200 a week or less on the service. If their patrons downloaded more than 200 tracks per week, which is highly, than they WOULD be getting a better deal than the patrons buying the content themselves (esp. considering that most popular songs on iTunes are now $1.29, not $.99). If patrons downloaded 400 tracks a week, this would make each song around $.50 – a >60% savings for community members compared to buying each song for $1.29 on their own. So, for some libraries, Freegal’s unlimited model may actually represent a great opportunity to use “our bulk buying power to get better/cheaper deals on content that we pass onto our users,” as you say. And with the unlimited model, the increased popularity of the service would only mean a better and better “deal” for community members (as cost per use would continue to decrease as popularity increases), rather than an inability to meet demand.

    What would you say to a librarians who find themselves in this situation with Freegal — where user demand is high enough, and the unlimited model pricing is low enough, to actually make music we’re buying through Freegal a “deal” for the community? Do you think that the other considerations warrant holding back from such a deal and waiting for a more ideal digital music model?
    Thanks for your opinion! Great, thought-provoking conversation here.

  86. Sarah Says:

    @Leah: I absolutely believe that, as you phrased it, the other considerations do warrant waiting for a more ideal digital music model. I think that libraries taking an active role in crafting such a model would be even sweeter.

  87. » If Reference is Dead Why Am I So Tired at the End of the Day? Closed Stacks Says:

    [...] a hipper crowd at the risk of alienating the people who have stood by us all along?  Consider the freegal debacle. Librarians are jumping at the chance to offer downloadable music without considering that the whole [...]

  88. Louise Mackenzie Says:

    Freegal are just starting to weezel their way into the Australian library market at present and I have to say at first glance I was completely blinded by technolust and thought the product sounded awesome. However, your post and subsequent comments have been a great eye-opener to the truth behind Freegal and why, for many reasons, they are a company best to be avoided. Thanks for the heads up!

  89. Gavin Says:

    Thanks for this well written piece. It will definitely help us when deciding on a renewal next year. Very informative.

  90. Annie Says:

    Hi there,

    Speaking of Freegal Music. I have been using it for a couple months now to download songs from the television show Glee. I noticed a problem yesterday. Normally every new episode releases new songs each week. Yesterday when I logged onto to Freegal no new songs were listed and I was disappointed and didn’t know why. Also I had press download to a certain song and it downloaded the wrong song. Do you have nay information on this? I contacted my library, but they are not really educated about Freegal and didn’t know the program as well as I did.

  91. Sarah Says:

    Hi Annie – It’s up to Sony to decide which songs get released when on the Freegal website. The collection only has select songs from select artists. That would be something to complain to your library about if you don’t like the selection. As for the download mistake, Freegal can re-set a user’s downloads to allow for a re-download of something that happened in error, so I’d start by asking the library to inquire on your behalf for that to happen. Also, alert the library (to alert Freegal) that the wrong song file is attached to a particular title. That’s something I’m sure they’d want to know.

  92. Lee Wilburn Says:

    Our library recently began offering fregal. I have used it for about a month now. I have no idea what the cost is and today I egan investigating what this service is and what kind of business model are they using and do they sell to individuals, just trying to understand what is this thing called freegal…maybe even why the name. And so I stumble on this discussion. Interesting.

    Is it too expensive for our local library? I hope not. The idea that they are paying maybe a $1 a song for me to have “free” songs is nutso. I pay a lot in county taxes which pays for the library. The buildings they are building are awesome but way more than I would spend, but that is just me.

    It is a no brainer that the website and search engine stink. Wow, that is much more annoying than the 3 title weekly limit. But let me express it in a positive manner. By making the search engine experience so painful and having such a limited collection that by the time I find 3 songs that I would want I am glad to have to stop for a week. It is like a sort of marathon completion experience to actually find 3 titles in order to use my quota.

    The comment by Brian from the Freegal people about people not wanting an entire album is applicable to certain segments..maybe evevn the main users, I figure more likely that is for younger users. Classical and Jazz albums would tend toward getting the entire publication…or at least that is how I see it. For example, I want to hear all of Miles Davis ’58 sessions…not just one sample title.

    Which rasies the point I guess of what is the point of this service? If I want Miles Davis 58, then why not just buy it myself (which I have) instead of getting the library to buy it for me. It is a confusing concept…but I do like having access and I am downloading my 3 titles per week. I have not givevn up yet and stopped returning, I am still finding things I want. I still want to keep my play list “fresh” for outdoor poolside music. I guess I could pay the $36 to Pandora and kill the commercials.

    Thanks and good discussion.

  93. val Says:

    i have to disagree – our patrons absolutely love it. we had some issues getting started but it’s an awesome service! you pay for songs on itunes so what’s the difference? we have in-house access only so our walk-ins and circulation has increased tremendously. we get them in for one thing…..and they leave with books. it’s great!

  94. Should the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County be buying MP3s for individuals? « Jibjib's life Says:

    [...] Just Say No to Freegal (written by a librarian) [...]

  95. Jeff Says:

    It sounds like Freegal did a very bad job of serving you, and that is unconscionable, but not surprising. Any business exists to make money, not to help people, and as long as they are making money (because of librarians’ technolust!), they’re not going to worry about you.

    I don’t understand the problem with the “pay-per-use” model, unless you are simply saying that Freegal is too expensive. Any physical library item has a finite circulation, and you could calculate how much it costs each time that item is checked out. Just as physical items wear out and have to be thrown away, so the number of downloads available from Freegal ticks down to zero.

    As for it being unsustainable, that’s nothing new either: every time we encourage people to use the library, we’re making more work for ourselves, costing ourselves more money, and getting nothing in return for our increased workload.

    Kudos for having the courage to speak up.

  96. Sarah Says:

    The problem is that other library services are not pay per use. What makes a library work, what makes it affordable for a community, is that we buy something once then lend it to multiple people. If we’re buying it once, then giving it away to one person, that creates a nearly limitless demand that we can never hope to meet. It takes what’s best about a library, our ability to maximize resources, and throws it away. I think that most libraries who started using Freegal did not consciously decide that they were okay with buying things to give away to people. We’ve never done that with books, music, movies, or anything else. If libraries are going to do that, be conscious of it.

  97. Walker Says:

    Los Angeles County and City libraries start using Freegal on July 1st. We’ll see how it all shakes out.

  98. Michael Steeleworthy Says:

    Thanks for calling it as you see it on this issue. You’ve mentioned so many things that should be addressed, from the poor (unethical?) service from the vendor, to how our predilection to be nice means we sometimes to fleeced, to our technolust. If we don’t discuss these issues publicly, then we’ll never improve on them.

  99. Spokker Says:

    Los Angeles County just signed up for Freegal. We went on the site and downloaded our three songs this week. My girlfriend is going to sign up for a library card next time we go to LA so we can download six songs per week. I’m not sure why LA County felt it was a good idea to spend public money so two people from Orange County, CA can download free songs, but hey, we’ll take it. So will the people on SlickDeals.

    I have already sent a letter to my local library system asking them not to sign up for Freegal if the opportunity arises. It is a complete waste of public dollars and flies in the face of how a library should efficiently use tax dollars to create the largest public benefit possible. All decisions makers at libraries who have subscribed to Freegal should be immediately fired and replaced.

  100. Spokker Says:

    By the way, the Los Angeles County Public library system closes down on Mondays due to budget cuts.

  101. Ebook Developments Were HOT at ALA | Says:

    [...] of this model and librarians reactions to the similar Freegal Music service, see the blog post by Sarah Houghton-Jan, and the many comments, including responses from Brian Downing, the CEO of Library Ideas. As [...]

  102. Ebook Developments Were HOT at ALA | FT Digital Says:

    [...] of this model and librarians reactions to the similar Freegal Music service, see the blog post by Sarah Houghton-Jan, and the many comments, including responses from Brian Downing, the CEO of Library Ideas. As [...]

  103. The Language of the Deal | Library Renewal Says:

    [...] Ask a lot of pointed questions. Take the long view. Remember, as pointed out so thoroughly by Sarah Houghton-Jan in her criticism of Freegal, the  sales pitch does not reflect the reality of the service. Ultimately, take Andy Woodworth’s [...]

  104. No more kool-aid please Says:

    So, tired of this one:

    “it has brought people into the library to see what else we offer”

  105. mdoneil Says:

    I am a degreed librarian with experience in public librarianship, as well as an attorney.

    Freegal provides licensed downloads that patrons can keep forever.

    Borrowing a CD from a library and copying it onto another device is a Federal crime in the United States and those prosecuted face up to five years in prison and a $250K fine for each violation.

    I am quite late to the discussion, but my local library cooperative added Freegal recently and I was curious as to what other librarians thought about it. As librarians we should be stalwart defenders of copyright protections for the artists and workers who produce our content, Freegal offers this, and lending CDs does not.

    I have no connection to Freegal other than I downloaded 3 songs today. I think it is a fine service and an appropriate use of the library budget.

  106. Eric Van de Velde Says:

    Just posted a blog that refers to this post.

  107. Eric Van de Velde Says:

    Just found out the price for Freegal. From the LAPL reference desk:

    The total Freegal price is $193,350. This is the subscription price for one year of unlimited downloads. A large part of the price was paid by the Library Foundation.

  108. Saying sarah | Ishop88 Says:

    [...] Just say no to Freegal | Librarian in Black Blog – Sarah Houghton-JanApr 13, 2011 … I am going to do what few librarians ever do. I am going to be perfectly frank about negative experiences with a vendor. [...]

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  110. Tangoing All the Way: Is Everything Negotiable? | In the Library with the Lead Pipe Says:

    [...] those prices with each other, nor do we share our experiences with the products themselves. In Sarah Houghton-Jan’s candid post about Freegal, she identifies three reasons for librarians’ [...]

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  112. John C. Says:

    Sarah, Sorry to hear about your bad experiences with Freegal. I’m happy your supervisor backed you up as no company should bully you for stating your opinion. Rather, they should have spent their time refuting your claim as to why your opinion could be wrong.

    Anyway, from a library patron (customer) perspective, Freegal is a good proposition for me. Surprisingly, there are MANY musical artists that are simply just not available from my regional library system of 63 libraries located in the lower Hudson Valley of NY. Our component libraries are not all small and many are very well funded, even in these tough economic times, as a result of virtually all of these libraries being bedroom communities to those working in NYC. I make this point because one would think we have access to virtually everything and why would an additional service like Freegal benefit even us?

    Well, sometimes I just want 1 or 2 songs from an artist. Maybe they were one-hit-wonders, or maybe I just heard the song on the radio and I’d like to download a quick copy. While I’m at it, I may choose to download one or two other songs from the artist to see if I like them, too! If I do, then I can see if my library has a copy of the CD to borrow to get all the songs, or if I can’t wait, maybe I’ll go to the store or some other download site and purchase the full CD.

    The fact that I didn’t need to shell out $1, or more to get that 1 or 2 songs I like, is a tremendous value and service to me. Over the course of a year, that could add up to over $150 worth of music, free! Multiply that by my wife and 3 kids and I’ve covered most, if not all of my annual library tax bill!

    Your argument of only being able to download 3 songs per week is true, however, it gives record companies and artists a mechanism for receiving royalties for the music they own. Lets face it, if you take the time to get a CD from the library, there is a distinct possibility that you’re going to illegally copy it. You know it, I know it, the record company knows it! Even if only half of the patrons that take the CD out make an illegal copy of it, that’s a lot of missed revenue!

    I think Freegal gives me the opportunity to ensure the artist gets paid for their work! After all, I want my favorite band to get paid and continue making great music!

    Another aspect of the service I like is it’s immediacy. I don’t have to order the CD through the library, possibly wait 3 or 4 weeks for it to come in, then drive all the way to the library to pick up a CD that has maybe half-a-dozen songs I’m interested in. Use Freegal, and I’ve just saved myself 2 or 3 dozen trips to the library each year! Easily a tank’s worth of gas and more savings!!!

    Also, another argument against Freegal you make deals with, “buying content for users to own permanently so they don’t have to pay the vendor directly themselves…putting libraries in direct competition with the vendor’s sales directly to consumers…”

    A couple of points here. First off, Freegal doesn’t seem to feel victimized by this, otherwise they wouldn’t offer the service, right?!

    By way of my library taxes, you are purchasing a service, in bulk, that is benefiting me and every other patron of the library, whether I use the service, or not. Could you imagine the value received if every patron of the library downloaded 3 songs a week, or 150 songs a year?! That’s the value risk Freegal is assuming. For me, this is a good proposition because I readily use the service and the library and appreciate the bulk buying power the library has enabled through this service. On the other hand, this service has no benefit to my grandmother who doesn’t even know what an mp3 player is, and still listens to records! As I previously stated, my family of 5 using this service will potentially save $750 per year, which is probably more than I spend on library taxes each year. To me, this is a huge value!

    Also, doesn’t your library offer other purchased “bulk” services like discounts or free admissions to zoos, museums, or theatre productions? Those discount and free admissions are there for the taking and pose the same argument you make against Freegal, all the while I can “put a face” on the local zoos, museums, and theatres that I can get into either free or at a drastic discount. These free and reduced admissions certainly impact the local economy and bottom line operating costs that are required to run them, yet lots of libraries don’t seem to have a problem offering these kind of services. Wouldn’t Freegal be lumped in with these types of offers, as well?

    I am glad to see libraries evolving and transforming to offer me more than just books, movies, video games and CDs for my tax dollars. I view these changes as good for the communities they serve, and while Freegal my not be perfect, it’s a service I enjoy and am glad my library currently offers. If a better “Freegal-like” service with a better value proposition comes along, I hope my library capitalizes on it! Pandora’s box is open and the cat’s outta the bag…I don’t even want to think about going back to the old way of just borrowing from the library. I want them to continue brokering these kind of “bulk” media deals for me in the future!

  113. NotInterestedinYourOPinion Says:

    Your view comes from the administrative side. While Freegal is limited to the Sony catalog, I feel that users should not complain about free music. I’m glad libraries are offering the service. I am a bit surprised to hear negative feedback. Perhaps Freegal does not want to deal with you, because you are being difficult with them. Why would they want to deal with you if they could deal with someone else?

  114. HCG diet Says:

    Copyrights and intellectual property are ancient products of a society when information was thought to be privileged. The fact libraries need to be for books at all is beyond reprehensible.

  115. refurbish laptops and desktops Says:

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  116. PanicDisco Says:

    Many of my public library peers are pouring the hate on this product. Why? Certainly not because the interface sucks or that the sales staff is unprofessional. Frankly, that is the norm for most library databases. No, my friends – the real issue here is patron directed acquisitions and the future. Google has nipped away at reference and now here comes freegal to take a whack at the other sacred cow – collection development.

  117. John C. Says:

    I disagree with HCG diet’s perspective on copyrights and intellectual property. If you ever publish a book, or poem, or song, or invent something, you are, and should be, entitled to revenue for the use and re-use of your creation. While everyone from Plato to Pearl Jam create intellectual content for public consumption. None of them, or anyone in between, doesn’t expect to be remunerated.

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  119. Jonadab Says:

    > A website that promotes our products cost about $10-15,000 to create

    This statement strikes me as disingenuous in the extreme. Technically, yes, it would cost somewhere between ten dollars and fifteen thousand dollars. For that matter, it would cost somewhere between ten dollars and fifteen billion trillion dollars, but by saying so makes me think you’re either insulting our intelligence or trying to pull something over on us, possibly both.

    It would certainly not cost fifteen thousand dollars to add a few paragraphs to the public-facing site explaining how the service works, why libraries might want to subscribe to it, and who they should contact if they have questions. As it stands, it basically says, in effect, “Go away, you non-subscriber you.” Bear in mind, this is the first page that comes up when somebody does a Google search for your company name. Is that really the first information you want them to see about you? It’s so short, people are inevitably going to hit back and click the next result, which, as it happens, is a detailed blog post about why libraries might NOT want to subscribe to your service.

    How confident can you be about working with a company when the very first substantial information you turn up searching for them is somebody’s bad experience?

  120. Rob Says:

    As an end user, just a patron using a library card, I notice it is fairly easy to get around the three songs per a week cap.
    If I start downloading 50 or 60 songs a week would the cost go up for the county library?

  121. Quentin Says:

    Rob says “As an end user, just a patron using a library card, I notice it is fairly easy to get around the three songs per a week cap.”

    That would be something that a library probably does not want public

  122. Quentin Says:

    Following on from Robert, downloading more than three a week might not cost the Library more necessarily (if they have a total download limit), but it would prevent other patrons from downloading once that limit was reached. So be unfair for other users.

  123. Northwest library user Says:

    I love my local library system, and I love that our tax dollars go towards sustaining and building libraries. I can’t, however, quite understand the reasoning behind supporting single user music downloads that are “for keeps”. It makes no sense to me. Libraries are for borrowing. If people are stealing music from CDs then they are breaking the law, the library cannot force people to cooperate, they can only offer a service that loans data to its users. Why am I paying tax dollars for others to get free music to keep? This makes absolutely no sense to me, and it feels like budget decisions akin to buying freegal will come back to bite libraries in the butt when taxpayers like me get wind of it. My library system is already struggling to stay afloat and we’re buying music for people for keeps? Personally, I’d rather pay for my librarian to keep regular hours.

    Some would argue that keeping music is no different than keeping an academic article that has been accessed by a library-funded database. I don’t think so. In my book, academic furtherance trumps music acquisition. Again, I realize that this is MY opinion, and it is grossly uneducated and heavily biased toward print-based learning. But I also think my opinion is in line with the huge majority of taxpayers.

    This situation isn’t freegal’s fault. They are merely offering the service. And it’s not the fault of libraries for wanting to offer more services to their patrons – decidedly not! But it does seem that the whole overarching MISSION and VISION of libraries is the main issue, and it’s one that I’m sure is debated endlessly at conferences and in academic journals. Thanks, librarian in black, for offering a forum for discussion.

    And, Mr Brian Downing, you suck at public relations and customer service. It is believable that reps for your company have bullied others if the theory is true that “so goes the CEO, so goes the company.” I can take both sides of this argument into account; many have genuinely had a great experience with freegal, but your responses were uncalled for. Similar to another commenter, I could have given freegal way more benefit of the doubt if you had only acted kindly and helpfully, rather than attempt to shame this blogger. Did she have strong words against freegal that are in opposition to many other freegal users? Yes. Might she be wrong on some points? Maybe. Did you have the right to be hoppin’ mad about what she wrote and to disagree wholeheartedly with her words and conclusions? Heck yeah. Did you have the right to attack her credibility? Certainly not. CEO’s who choose to enter public debate should show the best side of their company. You, sir, did not, and it makes her case all the stronger. If you choose to remain in business, please pay for a good consultant to work with you on how to treat others.

  124. Lisa Says:

    I agree that the sales rep was a jerk, but in my 25 years as a librarian I’ve never met one who wasn’t, nor a company that doesn’t lie. So to me, it’s just the standard case of caveat emptor.

    As to Freegal being unsustainable? Yeah, probably. But having all of our music CDs stolen or damaged within the first couple of months isn’t sustainable either, so I’m willing to give this a try. And call me cynical, but I think that we are in the waning days of the public library anyway, so in the grand scheme of things, Freegal will neither save us nor sink us. We’re on an inexorable slide into oblivion.

  125. Meg Says:

    As a user, didn’t realize I could complain to my library about Freegal. Thanks to this blog, now I will.

    The downloads don’t reset like they are supposed to, my account shows 3/3 for days before and after the reset day/time. When a download get’s messed up you are supposed to be able to re-download it twice, but when those two downloads don’t work (Freegal server issues?) then you get nothing, yet it’s counted against your 3 for the week.

    I can find songs I want when I browse through 75 pages, but I can’t find them with the search or advanced search. Many artists are not listed by their names, but under “Various” for some albums. I went looking for christmas music, but it was under “Holiday”, as were several other things, but then when you click on the artist name (or various) under the genre, it reverts to everything by that artist, not just the Holiday items, so you have to search through 50 pages to find the one song you want, and you know it’s there because you saw it last week just after you downloaded your third song and it doesn’t show up in advanced search under the artist’s name, nor the song title (what’s up with that), and who remembers the album name when it has a title with 10 words in it?

    Freegal sucks, but it’s what my library chose to offer, so I’m stuck with it, just like my old library would not buy popular dvds, only “educational” ones.

  126. College Student Says:

    I think anything FREE is awesome!
    But, as a member of Student Government at my college, I can’t see why so many libraries are buying into this Freegal company. I don’t pay taxes right now, so I don’t really care– I get free songs! (legally) so I’m happy.
    But if this were at my college, I would shoot it down, because Student Government’s budget comes from MY student fees and I would not be OK with this program. We do have a great program for movies and that is we buy a film–before it goes to DVD– and we show it at our school for free! with free popcorn and soda! It’s great and it attracts 100+ students depending on the popularity of the title.
    And I agree that it’s plain dumb for libraries to pay per use for songs and customers will lose interest because they have to come back week after week to get songs.
    If I were a librarian, who gives a crap about “piracy”, just buy a Now That’s What I Call Music! and lend it out. End of story. There are no laws against a library lending out CDs for their customers to listen to, or rip onto their computers. It’s just the same as renting a book from the library– it cuts into the publisher’s and author’s revenue! But you don’t hear them complaining because it’s been done for so long and there are people out there who are still willing to buy it for full price to get it right away. Same thing with DVDs, some people will pay the $10 bucks to see it in theaters, some $5 bucks to rent it, and some (like me) will wait to pay $1 from RedBox or even longer to see it for practically pennies on the dollar from Netflix.
    Why doesn’t a company come up with something like this? If you want hot new singles right away, you have to buy it for $1, but if you wait 2 months you can get it for free from your library (no cap) and the library pays a subscription fee (like Netflix). Again, all-you-can-eat, but you just have to be a little bit patient.

  127. Steve Regan Says:

    I like CDs. I like that people are giving us CD’s and that our patrons can get them from 40 plus libraries in the system. I think if I was a patron I’d probably be happy with anything the library was giving away, but as a somewhat tech savvy library clerk in the computer area, I wouldn’t want to support what appears to be such a flawed platform and weak premise.

  128. Drennen Says:

    well my library is The Evansville Public Library, and they also use Freegal. I for one just flat out hate the site, you can tell on each page there are spam ads waiting for innocent users to click (purposefully or accidentally), and another thing. NO CHRISTIAN MUSIC. there is a lot of Christian music out there with sony. they have the christian rock genre but no christian rock. I have not downloaded any songs, AND ENCOURAGE ALL USERS TO STOP USING IT BECAUSE ALL SONGS ARE LIKELY TO HOLD VIRUSES AND CRAP TO MESS UP YOUR COMPUTER!!!!! I totally agree with your statements. people. if you want free music there is a pretty well stocked site at . go there. choose “Muziek” and search your favorite artist. they may not have it but keep looking! there are very few that I have not found on the site. go ahead and go.

  129. The Case for Non-Digital Technologies « Hack Library School Says:

    [...] of different types of music, DRM-free downloads from Freegal are useful (though it’s worth noting Librarian in Black’s dissatisfaction with the vendor), but running programs like the Hosmer Library World Music Series offer not just a wealth of music [...]

  130. tsturgill Says:

    Wouldn’t it be more amazing if a BIG vendor who is already offering mp3s, would come up with a program offering a personal page for your local library where your patrons could download mp3s at a reasonable rate and a portion actually goes to your library?

  131. Dan Says:

    I love using freegal, but I sure don’t use it every week. Yes it’s one company (not one label, sony owns and enormous number of labels), but that includes a huge number of artists including several recent grammy winners. It’s great for picking up a couple tracks, but useless if you have people looking for whole albums. This whole rant is a bit misguided as people don’t look for whole albums as often as they now look for individual tracks.

  132. Dan Says:

    I think the biggest problem with freegal is not with freegal but with apple. On my android devices I can download them straight to the device, like my phone, and immediately have it added to my music collection. apple products can’t.

  133. Dudeface Says:

    Do the math here. $100,000 = 5,000 (min.) CD collection that lasts for years. People check out 5,000 CDs for 1 week and rip 3 songs each, that is 15,000 songs a week or 780,000 a year. Assuming 10 songs per CD, that’s 2.6 million songs a year. For the second year, another $100,000 = 5,000 PLUS the 5000 from the prior year. That’s now 5.2 million songs “downloaded” in a year.

    Year 3 – 7.8 million
    Year 4 – 10.4 million
    Year 5 – 13 million
    Year 6 – 15.6 million
    Year 7 – 18.2 million
    Year 8 – 20.8 million

    Go further and have the library archive its music collection on a server accessible (only one patron per CD ISO [disc image file]) accessible in the same manner as the physical CD – voila, the library has its own digital music catalog for user use. Have a notification or stoplight (green is available; red is occupied) system for popular titles so people can manage their time on using a CD. Yes, people may convert the CD image into songs (ie rip it) but libraries have no more responsibility to stop that than to stop someone from making a copy of a book page that infringes upon the author’s copyright.

    BETTER STILL, create a non-profit library CD consortium with all CD budgets for all libraries. There would probably be millions of CDs with numerous duplicates – all following the exact format distribution model of CD lending …with single user per CD image. Now, its a massive archive of properly licensed titles available for use on-demand.

    “But that’s not legal” …The library’s role is to provide access to content for a user, not to protect it. Ever used a copy machine in a library without the author’s consent? Yeah, I thought so. That’s because there are educational and other fair use exceptions to copyright law and the burden of infringement falls initially on the copyright holder to prove. Further, the RIAA would have to prove that libraries were infringing the copyrights for gain – an argument the RIAA knows it cannot win.

    In fact, what’s happening here is that “Freegal” may actually be converting use that might in fact be legal and free under the law but is swindling government into paying for it for individual benefit. There is no reason public resources should be subsidizing private industry copyright protection efforts by buying content for select individuals. The RIAA decided to distribute via the CD medium (and price fix those CDs in 1990s if you didn’t catch that massive scandal) that can be ripped. It knows full well that there are legitimate fair use rights of its content.

    FreeGal is not free – it is a massive scam. Stop it now.

  134. Eric Cohen Says:

    I am in agreement with the philosophical problems the author has with the Freegal service. The practical and company-centered problems she enumerates are largely irrelevant if you believe, as I do, that libraries should not be in the business of using taxpayer dollars to buy items for some of our patrons that, in most cases, they could buy more cheaply for themselves. Libraries are meant to be a source of shared resources for the community at large. The Freegal service is shared in only the most superficial of ways, and so does not meet that most basic standard.

    Secondarily, as noted, Freegal only offers content from Sony music (and not even the entire Sony catalog), which puts us not only in the position of promoting one music publishing company over others, but also means that we are offering our patrons a music collection that is selected not by the dictates of community taste and interest, but rather by what a particular company chooses to make available to us.

    I do not believe the Freegal service this is a good use of scarce library resources.

  135. Dave Sumner Says:

    My thoughts aren’t specifically aimed so much at Freegal as the model on which it’s based:

    Libraries, to me, are more about the sharing of ideas and information, not the ownership of them. It’s not the physical presence of a book or cd on a shelf at home that is important, it’s the words and notes contained therein that endow it with value. And if the words and notes make a profound connection with us, then we have that “information” forever, no matter how long ago the book and/or cd was returned to the library. This whole thing with the freegal model reeks of “getting.”

    Also, to narrow the focus to music… to my mind, the vital role libraries can play in the music world is in the area of discovery. The fact that there is no cost associated to obtaining a recorded work and being able to listen to it breaks down the financial barrier to discovering new music, to taking chances on new things… to open oneself up to new ideas. And artists, who create for themselves and to express whatever unspeakable ideas are in their head, sharing that music with the public provides them the ability to connect with others and, basically, to bounce their ideas off the ears of others through their music. Facilitating this connection between listener and musician is where libraries can best serve the public.

    At a time when music education funding is being reduced in the school systems and the appreciation of music (and all art) is being increasingly undervalued in society, libraries have a unique opportunity to present the idea that, hey, if you’re down on music and think there’s nothing there, lemme show you this [fill in the artist name] or this [fill in the album name]. Libraries have the opportunity to widen the appreciation of music and, by way of being a free service and a wealth of information, clear the path so exploration of the music frontier isn’t so formidable.

    This whole thing about getting a few downloads a month hoarded by a limited number of users, it just rubs me the wrong way. Wouldn’t the public be better served (and the music community) if the red herring of music file ownership were discarded and the focus placed on the real value of discovery? It seems to me that if a streaming service (a la Pandora or Spotify, etc) were offered through the libraries, in which the customer could receive unlimited streams (but not download) of music to a vast catalog of musicians and musics, that would provide a better value to library patrons. That way, rather than a library patron meticulously wasting time strategizing how they’ll use their three monthly song downloads, they could instead approach the entire music world with a carefree approach of “well I’ve never heard this before” or “that looks interesting” or “what the hell, I’ll give this a try,” with no cost to them other than their time and no obligation other than the willingness to indulge their imagination and curiosity. Again, Discovery, not Ownership.

    If this streaming service were to provide links to retail, artist, and label sites, in my opinion, that would be not only appropriate, but helpful to those three parties, and it seems like a fair trade-off of providing access to their catalogs. I would rather libraries use their funds for this type of service than simply act as an option to iTunes or Amazon. Libraries are supposed to eliminate the financial obstacles to the exchange of ideas, not exist as an extension of the marketplace. Access to listen freely to the exclusion of ownership, in my opinion, is the best approach to navigating that course while keeping with the library mission statement.

    Just my two cents. I’m not a librarian, just a patron who listens to a whole lot of music.


  136. IowaUser Says:

    I know this post is over a year old, but I am SO glad to find it!! I am a library patron, not a librarian, so I had no understanding of how the freegal model actually worked. I juts knew I got free music, so I started using it. I had many beefs with the system, but kept quiet because it was “free”. I will no longer do that. This service is anything but free. It also is anything but user friendly. It says nowhere on the site that I could find that it was just a Sony catalog. What a waste of time it has been for me to keep coming back to see if some of the artists I want had been added yet. They will NEVER be added because they are not on Sony. That’s an annoying thing to find out so late in the game. The capabilities of the site are ridiculous. An advanced search should not garner pages and pages of results that you somehow have to figure out how to sift through to find the artist or song. Genre searches should not be so ridiculous that you have no idea how to locate an artist or band. The limits suck. I read someone saying people download by song, not album. I disagree with that completely. I want the entire album of an artist that I LOVE. Some songs I listen to once and skip past on a CD actually grow on my and become my favorites. All of these things are things that I have chalked up to be little annoyances. I even said to a friend, “I sure as heck wouldn’t pay good money to use freegal, but since it’s free…”. Now that I see the numbers, the reality is that I AM paying to use this crappy service. My tax dollars are paying not only for me to use it, but for others to use it as well. It would be one thing if I was getting more bang for my buck by paying a reduced cost, but it actually appears I am paying MUCH more than I normally would for music that I actually like. More expensive, terrible user functionality, limited selection. . . I will be complaining to my library first thing Monday – yes, Monday. Maybe if we got rid of expenses like freegal, my library would be open on the weekend.
    Thanks, again, for the info.

  137. Ward (a library patron) Says:

    My local public library just began offering 3 downloads a week from Freegal. IowaUser did a great job describing shortcomings of the Freegal site.

    I have one to add: Freegal’s site provides no contact information.

    In my case, each of my two visits to Freegal revealed a bug. When I looked for a means to provide feedback, all I found was “For questions about the service, please contact your subscribing library.”

    It’s clear Freegal is not interested in hearing from patrons.

  138. patronandtaxpayer Says:

    I’m a patron & a taxpayer who stumbled upon your past while searching for “just who IS Freegal anyway”. I used Freegal a few times & it is severely limited in both content and quality of its user interface but that is not the key point. The point is that as a library patron and a taxpayer I cannot believe library admins are short-sighted & foolish enough to be led down this path. Freegal’s business model is to circumvent your rights under the “first-sale doctrine”. They know that people rip mp3s off CDs they get in libraries. They do not like it. They fought the “first-sale doctrine”. They lost. So, now they want you to spend money on mp3s that go to only ONE patron rather than on CDs that can be rented out over & over. Worse yet, now I hear that they are charging you AND THE TAXPAYER $1 or more for each mp3. So yes,
    5. the Freegal site feels like it was programmed in about an hour and has never been improved
    4. having the seemingly random & severely limited content makes it grow old quickly,
    3. it is undoubtedly a company that is “all lawyered-up” from top-to-bottom,
    but pls, think before you pay taxpayer money for this, for these simple reasons …
    2. you are paying to lose your “first-sale doctrine” rights &
    1. the more popular it becomes, the less you will be able to afford it & the more popular it becomes, the less people will want to GO TO THE LIBRARY.

    I can understand the short-sighted reasons admins have for signing up, but pls think before you let the lawyers trick you into another submission of your rights.

  139. Jeff N. Says:

    The company’s contact email is

    I emailed them to find out if the music artists get credit and one-time-purchase income from each download.

    I’m waiting for their response. If anyone knows, please comment.

    While I think it is a bad idea for use of library funds, as a patron, I find it useful.
    If my library chose to discontinue it, I would miss it but I’d understand.
    I still get physical CDs when they are available at the library, but for the ones that aren’t, it’s good to be able to access them.

    They have recently improved their catalog, but more needs to be done. The advanced search option is essential.
    Also, the moving graphic on the main page is annoying.

  140. David...maybe. Says:

    People who have philosophical issues with “giving away” content instead of “loaning” content…do you make sure your patrons erase all the articles they’ve downloaded from your databases to their flash drives? No? Well then your argument has no legs to stand on.

  141. KieranMullen Says:

    So if regular digital content is less expensive and the freegal interface is poor and their customer service and website is lacking. Why not just prefund itunes accounts for people since that is basically the same thing and they can get a bigger catalog for less money?

  142. Sarah Says:

    A good logical question. The answer is that it’s against the iTunes terms of service for the library to purchase songs for them. They also don’t provide a product or interface for libraries (because they don’t want to). So libraries would have to rig up a manual system of paying for songs for people, which is a huge staff time sink as well as…once again…against the iTunes terms of service. Same reason we can’t just directly buy people eBooks for their Kindles.

  143. Nancy Says:

    As a library patron, I’ve used the Freegal site that our library system (=taxpayers) spends a large amount of money for every year. We have four card holders in our family, so I can generally get a full CD each week. I use it, because our library subscribes to it, and that isn’t changing. I disagree with the idea of the service, because having the library buy me Sony music at a higher cost than I could go out and buy it is just crazy.
    1- That isn’t what libraries are for. If I suggested that I should be able to walk into the library each week and get a CD for my family to keep, everyone would think I was crazy.
    2- The fact that an entity like the public library can’t get a better price than that also boggles my mind. Quantity should equal a discount of some type. The library really could buy everyone an iTunes card each year and be further ahead with that logic.
    3- I dislike that I’m being put in a position where the money will be spent if I use the service or not, so I feel like I’m being wasteful if I buy songs on my own that I could get through the library, knowing they’re paying more for it than I would as an individual consumer. (Hopefully that makes sense. I’m cheap. But not just with my money. I want the best bargain for everyone.)
    4- I’ve never visited Freegal and been unable to download music. I’m actually usually at the other end of the spectrum. It’ll be 9 pm on Sunday, and I think to myself that I should get some of the songs my kids want before midnight. That also now makes me cringe to realize how much money my library must spend if I’m never required to go to the waiting list.

    I like the idea of the service, but wish it was more like Overdrive. Let the song expire in 21 days, just like the books that expire off of my iPad. If I love it, I’ll buy it from iTunes once I can’t play it anymore, or I’ll renew it. But, more likely, I’ll be over it and move on to some new songs.

  144. Jill Says:

    Lots of hate in here for many holier than thou people. I use Freegal off and on and have been a library user for a long time now. There is a sign in the library that really relates to services like this. It was a list of things to EXPECT from your local library. One of them was “Expect your library to have popular current material available to you.” It’s no secret what libraries pay a good chunk of money for certain materials, and I found out what my library pays and it’s just south of $10,000 per year, a flat fee. All available to you in the FOIA if you request it. Freegal though (as many of you are totally off) gets cheaper per download taken. Since my library pays $10,000 per year, I was told that the more people use it, the less money per download. Would iTunes allow that? I THINK NOT!!! Yeah they don’t have everyhing, but does your library have every single CD every created? Nope not even close, and in fact your library is probably buying CDs, then after a couple years they are thrown out, or stolen, or scratched to all hell making them unusable. I don’t have any problem with the functionality of the site. You look up a song, artist, album, download what you want and get out. All from the comfort of my own couch too. As for the library purchasing material for us to keep– Simple, keep up with the times or lose your funding. Music is totally different and in this day and age, is not meant to be circulated like you all are so puckered up about. People share music on the internet now if all of you didn’t know. Yeah, there are a certain people that still use CDs, but mostly for devious things like, GASP, ripping them on a computer. As I see it, it’s the library keeping up with technology which I believe to be great. Who knew that a private company in the United States of America is working to make money? Damn them! <—-Sarcasm

  145. Linda Says:

    You forgot to mention that the selection sucks. Every song I want is either not available or a crappy version done by another artist. I suppose that’s partly because of the single label, but still …

  146. Barbara Says:

    Quote from user David—maybe:

    “People who have philosophical issues with ‘giving away’ content instead of ‘loaning’ content…do you make sure your patrons erase all the articles they’ve downloaded from your databases to their flash drives? No? Well then your argument has no legs to stand on.”

    The argument about keeping article downloads is comparing apples to oranges. Most articles are used or read one time. Downloaded songs are used multiple times.

    Is this Freegal owner David Berset making this comment?

  147. Jean Says:

    As a user, I can’t believe there are patrons complaining about the weekly limit and limited selection. It’s free to us! We’re lucky to have it. No library can afford to carry all the music of the world whether in CD or digital form. Why should one expect Freegal to offer that. Not all record labels will be willing to participate. You don’t think Freegal wants to bring in more labels? Of course they would, it would be better for them, I would think they are trying hard. It’s fantastic that we have access to some foreign music and real old oldies. Limit of 3 a week, no big deal. Patience, planning, multiple cards in the family, you will eventually get all you want. Hit and miss with getting the latest songs. But when you do get one (and it’s not that rare), hey it’s free! Free to keep forever no less. Why pass along patron complaints that show no appreciation for what is given and what can’t be possible. Sure you can dream and be demanding to have it all, but it’s not realistic. Wary about a website’s single page? From a programmer’s point of view, it’s efficient and does what it is suppose to for it’s users. Sure, the search & results display can be improved, but just because it’s one paged is no big deal for its purpose. I’m sorry if the cost structure is not ideal. Hopefully a better pricing deal can be worked out because it’s my taxpayer money too. But in the meantime, thank you for the music. As a user, let me tell you there is no need to have a complete catalog from every label and having a limit per week is absolutely fine. For Freegal, hire a better programmer to improve your search/results display.

  148. James English Says:

    >Historically, librarians only publicly post about
    >the positive experiences they’ve had with vendors.

    That is very true, and is something that needs to chane. Sharing information about vendors – good and bad – is important in any field.

    I have always been very vocal about my experiences with vendors. I wish more people would do that same. Thanks for the great post!

    Just out of curiosity, have people had bad experiences with their Freading product?

  149. Myles Jaeschke Says:

    Well, it’s been a year since Sarah made her original post. Looking the the “Freegal” website I see NOTHING has changed there–almost no information about the company or the product to speak of there, despite Brian Downing mentioning that it would be “great idea” to update their website.

    I do note that many libraries seem to be happy with their subscritption purchase, however, put me in the still skeptical column about this service. Way to expensive for a product that is cheaper to buy in a physical format.

    Yes, I get the no overdues, no damage, always available arguements but libraries should be able to “purchase” the digital files and circulate them on our own. Heck even encoding files with DRM in order to actually own the music for our circulating collection would be better (if that would be stipulation by a vendor) than puchasing downloads (a la Freegal) on behalf of our customers IMO.

    I still do not see the benefits gained for the exorbitant costs associated with the service.

    But Freegal seems to be the only choice in the digital delivery of “popular” music (Overdrive, the only other “player” in terms of “popular” music has a VERY limited selection IMO.) So for now it’s Freegal or bust. I choose bust–for now.

  150. Curt Tagtmeier Says:

    You bring up some valid points, but let us clarify some things here:
    1. You say Sony is just one label. Did you know Sony releases 25 percent of all albums. That is a pretty sizable chunk. This include subsidiaries like RCA (The Strokes), BMG (Foo Fighters).
    2. I understand reservations about purchasing content versus renting, but I have a huge issue with unbalanced treatment of patrons. This product is here, available, and offers free downloads of 25 percent of the world’s music. We cross heaven and earth to deliver ebooks to our patrons, but what about our music fans. I listen to music as a hobby. I do not read. I hate reading for pleasure and that is my perogative. Music fans want content delivered digitally, so why do the readers get all the benefits.
    3. 3 downloads a week is enough. Think about this: you buy an album like the latest Red Hot Chili Peppers. I recently listened to it. I found about 3-4 songs that I would want in my iTunes. Librarians are thinking of this in some grand scope like most listeners require the full album. Even listeners make that mistake as well. Our devices do not have an infinite amount of space. We do not have an infinite amount of time to listen to them. We listen to playlists, not albums anymore. Freegal would give me the opportunity to listen to a cd at least partially even if it was checked out. Adele comes out with a new album. It will take me months to get that album, but Freegal gives me immediate access.
    4. Offline access is an awesome benefit for your patrons. You don’t have to worry about Internet access or authorizing something to a restricted number of devices. You don’t need to download software like Adobe Digital Editions as far as I know.
    5. Finally, let me just say that the tradeoffs we are currently making with Overdrive are not that much different from Freegal, but we don’t hear all these libraries screaming about leaving Overdrive.
    6. As far as vendor support, I cannot answer to some of these other experiences. Know this. It took over 10 years to get Spotify off the ground. Much like those 3 downloads which do add up and accumulate, patrons and libraries must be patient. Freegal is worth it now…and will be more valuable later.

  151. Emily Dastrup Says:

    I can’t speak to the pricing as I am not a librarian – but as a user I can say how disappointed and frustrating it is to take out CDs from the library that are scratched and don’t play. They do not hold up like books and I have always felt like it is a waste of money for the library to buy these as the covers get broken when placed in the return boxes and then the CDs slide around in their case and get ruined. Or, irresponsible individuals scratch them and don’t pay to replace. Allowing the downloads seems like a better deal for the money. As a user, it is easier for me and while the selection is limited I am happy my library offers it and I will be sad when we move and I can no longer access the service.

  152. A former employee Says:


    Be very cautious of any representations made by this vendor.

    There is a track record here that dates back a long time. They say that prior behaviour is indicative of future behaviour.

    So, I am not surprised by the comments I see here.

    Good luck to all!

  153. Some criticism of Freegal: positive and negative | Bibliographic Sketches Says:

    [...] Just say no to Freegal Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Digital Music Services, Music Informatics by zamiel. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

  154. andrew.johnson Says:

    hey im 15 year old kid and i think that its kinda shady what its doing. it kinda reminds of some old cartoons that ive seen where the man is tricked into buying some item from a vendor and it turns out that it doesnt work then when the man tries to get his money back the vendor sends a bouncer after the guy to beat him up or keep him away.freegal is the vender and the libraries are the man. now why not try investing money into a new program that allows limitless downloading but at a cost per month (like 5 to10 dollers)for single people andfor families 15 to 20 dollers. then you can gain a profit off of the music which with all the libraries making can get new records for the site by pooling together the money they got or using it on thier own with this plan its national library owned property not some friggin shady company. p.s. im to impressed with freegal because of the service(havent been able to find a help button) and the site authentication server is litteraly almost always down.

  155. mark Says:

    i dont know what to make of this whole thing, my towns library has recently announced they are going to start offering freegal at the end of july 2012 (thats if they actually launch on time, their launch of overdrive’s ebooks and audiobooks system was pushed back a few times) and by looking up this service, i found this post in a google search (as well of alot of canadian librarys who use the system) im actually disguested with the whole notion that tax payers are footing the bill for patrons to download music for free with no DRM (overdrive content licences will expire when your “due date” occurs rendering your content useless), i get why librarys are adopting this, we live in a digtal society and they have to get with the times, lots of people question why librarys even exist in a world with the internet and ebooks……….. it doesnt make it right though,

  156. Library Digital Customer Says:

    Well written article! Your points were logical, well reasoned and sensible. This service is new to my area, so I have yet to test it. From a patron’s point of view, it would at first seem a great new service. Thank you for raising the impracticality of the pricing, because no matter where you live, at least some part of your tax dollars fund your local library system. I am thankful that there are staff members that are attempting to be good stewards of the resources entrusted by us.
    Thank you for bringing these issues to our awareness.

  157. Val Says:

    I’m sorry you had a bad experience with Freegal. We love it.. Great experience with their sales and support team from day one. If we purchase for our patrons to use so they don’t have to buy it themselves….what’s the difference?

  158. Shawn Says:

    I am a patron of the Winnipeg Public Library. I have just started using the Freegal service and am enjoying the free legal music. I wrote an article on how to access it on mywebsite to share with friends. Freegal’s selection and website are pretty disappointing, but hey its FREE and LEGAL.

    If the amount that my library is paying divided by the number of songs downloaded by patrons is ANYWHERE near $1, the service is a RIPOFF. The only possible upside might be that rich people are subsidizing poor people’s access to music. Poor people with computers and internet access and maybe portable music devices??? I feel a little embarrassed that the 12 songs I downloaded this week (4 library cards in my house) may have cost the library $12. For music that I dont really want from Freegal’s sparse catalog.

    If my library’s bill goes up when I download music, I wish they would have let me know on their sign in page. I would have opted to NOT USE THE SERVICE. There has to be a better way to spend $3/week at the library than giving me 3 free MP3 downloads from a very limited catalogue. MP3′s should be cheaper than that when bought in bulk.

    I will consider making a freedom of information request to the library regarding their Freegal bill.

    Free and Legal. Well, legal anyway. Not even Cheap and legal. EXPENSIVE AND LEGAL.

  159. naemi varna Says:

    Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to mention that I’ve really loved browsing your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I am hoping you write again very soon!

  160. Brian Myers Says:

    Just my 2 cents. As a library patron, I love Freegal. I have no idea what my library’s subscription model is (Auckland, NZ).

    However, as others have mentioned, the search feature sucks, very very much, and there is no other way to find things ( because browsing by category is even more painful). I can still live with it.

    Another complaint – lack of diversity. For example – no Frank Zappa. At all. A few tracks by Dweezil – not the same. Repeat for almost everything. Classic 70′s band Yes? One live album only (and it’s not even the good one, “Yessongs”).

  161. David F Says:

    While I’m not privy to the behind the scenes working of Freegal, as a user I like their service. I know coming into it that I get only three downloads a week, so see no reason to complain. I can always burn tracks from CDs if I want more.

    As to their collection, it seems they have a great many labels besides Sony, including many independents.

    As a user, I generally pleased and find a great deal of non-mainstream music on Freegal.

  162. Garry Says:

    As a user I appreciate our library having Freegal available. I have found songs (from long ago) that I could not find elsewhere. While it may not be feasible forever, I fully appeciate and support my library offering Freegal to we the patrons.

    Perhaps the tone of the writer of the blog says something.? That is, let’s not try new things. Let’s keep everything as it was!

  163. IowaLibrarian Says:


    On the contrary, I believe LIB is saying try new things, expand your horizons, but don’t do it at the expense of library mission and budgetary constraints. I don’t buy a copy of each book for each patron that wants to read it, we loan it. As a taxpayer, I do not want my money to be spent buying downloads for my neighbor. I don’t mind having a bunch of them, loaning them, and then letting them buy it for themselves if they like it. Kind of how we’ve always operated. As a librarian, I cannot afford to devote literally 3 times my annual music budget to this one program. I have no idea where I’d find that money – and there would be no CDs purchased for circulation. LIB is saying that we have to stop jumping at every new shiny tech advance until it makes sense for the library model – which Freegal does not. The “we have to get it because people want it and it gets people in the door” is not looking at the future of the library.

    My son doesn’t even think of the library for music downloads….he buys them off iTunes for a whopping 99 cents – so he uses his allowance to do it. He certainly couldn’t afford multiple books a month, either eBook or paper, so he comes here for our collective buying power. He doesn’t need that for individual downloads.

    The argument that we do pay for people to keep things like articles has some validity – but I don’t have to limit people to three articles a week and the cost of the databases for us is significantly less. Frequently it is also not accessible to my patrons any other way and I certainly can’t afford individual subscriptions to all the journals represented. Music is available via CD so we choose the more fiscally viable option.

    Had I known Rocket Languages was an affiliated business I never would have even looked at the pricing. The salesperson from Rocket that keeps hounding me ranks right up there with the cold call marketing products vendors – the ones that don’t take no twice, and when they don’t take it the third time….click. He has also repeatedly bashed another language database company – and sent me emails with outright falsehoods about said company. And no, David the CEO, I don’t feel compelled to prove that by posting the email. If you want to assume I’m a sourpuss liar as well, so be it.

  164. Georg Younger Says:

    been trying to use lateley — have had 3 downloads per week, now I have 1 download per week (I assume it was the album I downloaded over time) Lately the website is unresponsive and gives me the “about Freegal Music” message “The Freegal Music Service is a download music service sold to Libraries for free use by its registered cardholders. Please check with your local library to see if they have subscribed to the service. The service is only available to subscribing libraries and members, and you must enter the Freegal Site via the Library URL.
    The Freegal Music Service is operated by a private company, Library Ideas, LLC of Fairfax, Virginia. For questions about the service, please contact your subscribing library”

  165. Earl J. Says:

    As a patron, I would love Freegal. Hey, something for nothing, at taxpayers’ expense. That’s the way America is going, right?
    As a taxpayer, though, I hate it. How is Freegal different in principle than just buying and handing out iTunes gift certificates each week to the first patrons who ask for them?
    I don’t buy into the apologists’ argument that, “hey, it’s just content, and we give other content away.” No, it is a PRODUCT that is available on the open market, easily available for purchase.
    As for Freegal the organization, I have this gnawing feeling, unsupported by any evidence I can find, that the lack of transparency is deliberate and carefully maintained. I think (again, my OWN opinion) that Freegal is somehow a front for Sony. That would explain why no other music source is available or contemplated, AND I assume it is a nice additional distribution channel and revenue stream.
    I’d be happy if it could be independently shown otherwise.

  166. Tom Says:

    I just got Freegal and downloaded the app.
    1. Not downloadable to the iPhone? Really?
    2. The interface and search is unusable. It seems that when I choose a track, I am taken to more songs.
    3. Categories. Journey is considered Easy Listening?
    4. Compare some tracks from iTunes and Freegal. are some people noticing a difference? Has anyone compared Maroon5′s “Payphone” tracks side by side? How about the summer hit Call Me Maybe?

  167. Nathan Says:

    I’ve been interested by the comments from (presumably predominantly American) libraries about their experience with Freegal; our library went live with it a couple of months ago (using the unlimited-downloads/3 per week model) and we’ve had no complaints, especially after we wrote a ‘how-to’ guide. We clearly state ’3 downloads’ and no-one questions that.

    Our subscription pricing was a lot cheaper than that mentioned in the posts regarding it, possibly because Australia is a new market? That’s especially good because the American companies that sell music (Amazon/iTunes etc) routinely gouge Australians with far higher prices for purely digital content with no physical delivery costs – that makes Freegal a far more attractive prospect for libraries here!

    Usage is climbing, even without heavy promotion, and we think of it as no different than a database where you purchase access to the content for the subscription period. Even if you say “it’s giving away music, not lending it”, we explicitly consider it a ‘loss-leader’; like in a supermarket, it’s a promotional tool intended to get people through the door and get library cards in their hands, and once we’re past that first hurdle we can sell them on the rest of our (free) services.

    Given the scarcity of digital-content-provision-services – in any category – that are willing to come to the table with libraries, we think Freegal’s a good starting point until something better comes along. I’m interested if you still think Freegal’s a bad bet, considering the lack of anything better?

    I think it’s no longer enough for libraries to say “The choices are bad, so we’re choosing not to do anything” – if we don’t adapt (and demonstrate we’re adapting) we’ll simply get left behind, as the public increasingly feels (rightly or otherwise) that libraries are no longer needed as information specialists – they’ve got Google for that!

  168. Sarah Says:

    I do indeed still think Freegal is a bad investment. The fundamental of the pay per use model and how it doesn’t work for libraries hasn’t changed. Nor has their selection changed, or their substandard interface, or the fact that libraries’ roles in the community are not to buy something for one person simply so he/she doesn’t have to spend the money himself/herself. We pool resources, then make those resources available to as many members of the community as we can. Freegal does not do that. And with all digital content available to libraries today, to me it’s not a valid argument to say “Well, at least it’s *something* so we should buy it, even though it’s pretty bad. Better to have something bad than nothing.” I disagree. In tight budget years especially, I can better use those funds for my community to do other things that will be used more and have a more lasting positive impact on more people.

  169. schermnaam Says:

    You make valid arguments for why Freegal may be a bad investment for a public resource, especially at a time of budget shortfalls. But there is sense in which “to buy something for one person simply so he/she doesn’t have to spend the money himself/herself” is what libraries have done since their inception–though of course–multiplying that “one person” to the entire community, more or less forever. Libraries still have CD collections and those are in keeping with the libraries’ mission of community resource. And as a Freegal user, I responded to the 3 song per week limitation and the Sony only catalog by rediscovering the CD collection at my local library, which got me into my library again.

    A similar thing happened with Overdrive: I liked the idea of ebooks–it allowed me to carry one device for several books that was lighter than a single hardcover book. But it seemed wasteful to buy a single ebook I may only read once when libraries were now offering to lend them. But, as with Freegal-there were limitations. Several of the books I wanted to read were not available in e-form and for those I did download, the lack of a physical book made me less conscientious about finishing them in 3 weeks. So…I started borrowing from the vastly greater collection of books, one at a time–again, getting me into my library more regularly than I had been in years. And then I see there are speakers, book fairs, people indoors together during the day doing something arguably more useful than shopping.

    So, at least in my own case, the “loss leader” model seems to be working. The very limitations you cite as bolstering the “bad investment” idea may actually be necessary for libraries to benefit in the long run.

  170. Clayton Says:

    I don’t know about the logistics of Freegal, but as a patron, I love it. I can find a wide variety of music from around the world. I don’t know if they are all Sony, but I doubt it. I’m finding amazing hard to find music.

  171. Chuck Says:

    I’m passing this on to my former library friends that just got this “service”.

    There are truly Free and Legal music choices out there like which is all Creative Commons licensed, unless you want to use it commercially.

  172. van Says:

    MpI am a library customer in San Jose,CA.
    I tried to downlown a song.It failed but freegal music charged me that song.It’s a cheat.
    Please find another company that is honest.

  173. van Says:

    Freegal is definitely not a good investment.They cheat and they don’t have many songs.
    Please find

  174. Jacob Says:

    Why are libraries still using Freegal when there are better options? Overdrive, a decent service provider with none of the problems Freegal has, allows downloading music as well as audiobooks and e-books. I think people are being tricked into paying extra for “DRM-Free.” If a patron wants DRM free music he can buy it direct. If he/she wants free music, he/she should expect some DRM.

  175. Cheryl Says:

    Now I know why my library turned it down.

  176. Dave Says:

    I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but I noticed several comments sprinkled through here that are pretty obviously written by someone that is either part of freegal or being paid by them.

    It fits with their other questionable practices.

  177. Donotcare Says:

    I won’t say no to Freegal until libraries offer a similar or better replacement. Most patrons care about one thing here: free music. They don’t care about your problems with the service, if it outcome is no more free downloadable music. If you take Freegal away, then the anger and criticism you aim toward Freegal will seem like nothing compared to the ire that you will receive from patrons, who are the ones whose tax dollars pay for the service (and your salary).
    Why are commenters here complaining about free music? If the alternative is nothing, then quit your complaining! No, I do not work for Freegal, and yes, I love the service. If librarians have a problem with it, then I encourage them to go work at a bookstore so that I don’t have to pay their salary while they actively work to destroy one of the best ideas for public libraries since Dewey invented the decimal system.

  178. Erica Says:

    As a very regular library patron with a home full of teenage foster children the idea of free downloadable music was amazing. My kids gave up so quickly because they could only put three songs on their mp3 players a week… this was not even enough for one workout I was told by my oldest! I would not mind one bit if we could download the song with an expiration date like our ebooks. I think it would be more cost effective for the library. I can not stand to think our library system would spend over 1/2 of its electronics budget on this program.. how scary. My kids hated the search option, always complained about finding specific tracks, and there was no help option. We would have liked a chat with help option like lots of websites offer. I do want to agree with previous commenter Emily though… CDs from the library suck, as do movies. They are always scratched and rarely work fully. I suppose that is the down side to sharing with people who do no respect other peoples property (which I understand is not the libraries fault). I loved the idea of freegal… but actually disliked and ultimately gave up on the actual product.

  179. Jim Says:

    Let me say that I benefit from Freegal as I download music. That said, I am also a taxpayer and as a taxpayer I find Freegal to be a reckless and irresponsible use of taxpayer money.

    Why should my government allow me to build a music library using taxpayer money? Shouldn’t I simply buy the music I want?

    When there is no accountability for spending, it is easy to waste precious resources on nonsense like Freegal. Virtually none of the homeowners I know understand that a portion of their property taxes goes to pay for this. If they did, they would not like it. As they find out, it will bring pressure to bear on the library district for misappropriating funds. It is not the mission of a library to entertain, after all. We have music stores, movie theaters and other venues for that.

    A library should educate by providing access to resources. Downloading music is not part of that music, and public servants who do not understand that should be replaced and made to pay for malfeasance.

  180. Allie Says:

    There isn’t enough content for me to want to go on. I only download every week, because why not? It’s free, and I’m a high school student who is too busy for a job. (Seriously, between school, friends, and studying for exams, I have literally no time for anything).

    I have almost no money. So getting three songs a week is great for me.

  181. Danny Says:

    Sorry: complaining library users over free mp3 downloads? Free music downloads is awesome. If you really want a whole album, buy it on Itunes or Amazon.

  182. CH Says:

    EBSCO sucks at subscription services too. We have 600,000 subscriptions and they give us 1 little old lady that works part-time. Lemmie tell you, she’s a dear! But EBSCO headquarters gives her no staff to help her. I hate them. Every time anybody asks, as well as in my monthly report I contrast them to other subscription vendors. Other vendors have teams. EBSCO makes my work hell and it seems like they treat their staff poorly too. All the good people in the technology side last a year.

  183. Carl Says:

    I am a Freegal user and I love it. I am also a homeowner so I know that my taxes go to support this service. I figure that if I am paying for it, I might as well use it!

    I know upfront that the music is limited to Sony and am ok with that, it is still a huge collection. I have simply created a wishlist and plug away 3 songs at a time until I get the whole album. Not a problem for me.

    I also appreciate the fact that the artist is getting a cut. I’m sure that many patrons are burning the CD’s they check out, there is no way the libraries can prove they are not. At least with Freegal I know that I get my 3 downloads legitimately.

    Wouldn’t it also benefit the library in staff time and space by having less physical media to keep track of? It seems the CD inventory at my local library does not have nearly the breadth of offerings that Freegal does.

  184. grace Says:

    came across this because I decided to do some investigation on freegal and as you said, they have no web presence. I do download my 3 songs every week and every week they ‘disappear’ ‘can’t be found’ so I download again, they disappear again, so frustrating! not sure what is up with that?

  185. John Says:

    I loved libraries as a child but alas have no time for them. I think at some point libraries will have to embrace the digital age of smart devices or become extinct. One day all services offered by a library will be available online. There will be no need for brick and mortar facilities, overhead and faculties or the tax expense to fund them. Education will also go this route eventually (think online home schooling). This sounds like a good attempt to keep libraries in the picture a little while longer. Perhaps they may even survive the digital revolution as a meeting place for in person digital school activities if the librarians have the vision to change with the times. Visions take time to get to 20/20. Though I have many digital books I still love my paper books and a nice quiet place to read them when I have time. I also accept that they will someday be relegated to an expensive special order item. They cost too much to produce, transport, store and display (not to mention the environmental impact of the entire process) compared to digital media. People (especially the young) today prefer the mobility, instant access, and search capabilities of digital media. Change is difficult but things will change. The only question is if libraries facilities will be part of the change or become a search topic. This sounds like a great idea to get people looking at libraries as an up to date resource again.

  186. Morgan Jarema Says:

    John- Your comments make me very sad. Even before I became a library employee a year ago, the library was (and still is) as much of an important part of my daily life as grocery shopping. It is built into my schedule because it’s what I do for relaxation and enjoyment. Not to mention I could never, ever afford all the books, magazines, music and movies I get for free with my library card that I otherwise would have to pay for. Contrary to your comments, we are a very very long way yet from being able to offer all those things for free to everyone online. Where I work in Michigan, teens and college students are some of our most avid users *because* so much of what we offer can be accessed via mobile devices. Libraries accross the U.S. and beyond have been begging ALL publishers to release their books to us in electronic format, and we’ll pay for them just as we do with print books, to no avail. Libraries HAVE kept up with changing technologies because it is what we have always done. Please, if you doubt what I’m saying, take time soon to visit one and have a staffer tell you about everything that’s available.

  187. Adam Says:

    I’m an ardent library supporter and frequent patron. I’ve been using Freegal since I learned about it through my local library – the Hennepin County Library system in the Minneapolis, MN metro area – and my experiences have been mostly positive. Though Freegal’s original website (since updated) was poorly designed and the (some) Sony-only selection was limiting, I was overall satisfied with what I was able to download.

    That said, I really appreciate your post. As a journalism graduate, I’m all too aware of the necessity for free and open media and access to information, and this spills over into our library system. Contractually handcuffing a library to a record label, or publisher, stands counter to the very ideals of a library system. Couple that with the profit-hungry, wheeling-and-dealing salesman element, and I have to consider whether this free access has too high a price.

    I’m not very well-versed in the day-to-day business operations of a library, which go unseen (unappreciated?) by its patrons, but this glimpse behind the scenes is a valuable one and will give me pause to consider what effects my use has on the institution upon which I am so dependent as a lover and supporter of knowledge and art.


  188. Jessica Says:

    Thanks for your article! It was very interesting and I feel pretty silly but I had no idea my library was paying so much for the service! Knowing the costs makes me seriously question their decision. I haven’t ever had a customer service issue with them (I’ve never contacted them about anything), but I completely agree with some of your other critisisms of Freegal. I found out about my library (Salt Lake County Library System, in Utah) offering Freegal’s service about 2 years ago. At first I was so excited and I was making a point to log on weekly to download my 3 songs. After about a month, though, my visits started becoming much less frequent and now I hardly ever go on anymore. Every once in a while I think of some random song or a genre that I might be interested in and I’ll log on to see if it’s available on Freegal, but it usually isn’t. That just makes me less likely to use it in the future. My biggest frustrations are how long I have to spend searching their website for anything I might be interested in downloading and also the 3 song per week limit. I did find a way to get around that, though, by at least setting up Freegal accounts for my husband and two daughters, who also have library cards, so I could get 12 songs per week instead of 3. It was a hassle logging out and back in and finding the album I wanted again, but not too big of a deal. I’ll have to talk to my library about possibly coming up with a better use of their money. Thanks so much for sharing your opinions on this!

  189. My Hyperlinked Library | Islander Says:

    [...] added features include Freegal, which offers access to the Sony music catalog (although the Librarian in Black has valid reservations about the service model), and Zinio, a digital magazine service that [...]

  190. Seen This Before. Says:

    I am not familiar with the inner workings of a library, however signing contracts with Sony Freegal salespeople fits quite nicely into the image of wasteful ill-thought and ill-planned implementation of frequently failed IT government projects. And you’d think they have learnt!

  191. Welson Says:

    I just finished reading your article and it proved to be very informative.

    1.) I live in NYC so I have access to two different libraries (New York Public Library, and Queens Library) that decided to try out the Freegal service. As of 12/31/12, the Queens Library decided NOT to renew their Freegal subscription due to the high cost. NYPL is still currently subscribing to Freegal. This blog post puts their decision in better context and I support Queens Library’s decision to NOT renew Freegal. But I also support NYPL’s continued use of Freegal because I believe that libraries need to have the flexibility to make mistakes. Not too often mind you, but they should be able to try out various services to see what fits best with their users.

    2.) I’ve got their app on my phone and I’ve experienced plenty of problems downloading songs. When the app crashes in the middle of a download, you lose the song AND 1 download out of the 3 that’s permitted. I didn’t think it was a big deal when I had 6 downloads thanks to two libraries using Freegal, but now that I’m limited to 3 downloads, I want to make every download count and losing even 1 download hurts. But after reading this article, I realize that it means that every download LOST means that Freegal is getting money for FREE that they haven’t EARNED!! The download might have been started, but it was never completed due to Freegal’s app crashing. Is there any way for the library to find out how many times the app has crashed in the middle of a download? This might give libraries a better idea of how much return they’re getting on their investment. If $100,000 = 100,000 downloadable songs and only 66,667 songs are actually downloaded while 33,333 songs are getting lost because their app crashes, well…that’s a lot of money that Freegal is getting for FREE.

  192. naeem Says:

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  193. Chuck Darwin Says:

    Until another vendor comes along that can compete with Freegal, your criticisms fall on deaf ears. If the choice is between Freegal and no free downloads, then I choose Freegal. Dropping the service without replacing it with something similar or better will only cause a backlash from frequent patrons like myself. People who complain about the selection on Freegal need to expand their musical horizons. There is a TON of good music on Freegal!! And, as one commenter noted, the Freegal selection is better than the CD selections available at the brick-and-mortar libraries. The answer isn’t to do away with the service Freegal offers; the answer is find other vendors who can compete. Then, prices will drop and selections will expand.

  194. Chuck Darwin Says:

    Oh yeah, I should clarify: I know that Freegal isn’t free in the sense that it costs the library, and thus our tax dollars, to use the service. But, when that cost is paid for by a large or sufficient number of residents, the service is, in effect, free to those of us who don’t pay much in taxes, AKA “the working poor.” You might say that those who can afford to buy, for example, Adele’s new CD, usually do buy it, if for no other reason than it’s more convenient to just throw down the cash than wait one week to download five songs at a time. But the poor have no such luxury. They (We) cannot afford to throw down cash on a new CD, so the Freegal service offers them a chance to obtain and listen to new and good music that they otherwise couldn’t afford unless they burned it off one of their more affluent friends.

  195. Chuck Darwin Says:

    Another acceptable alternative to Freegal
    If the Freegal service is really eating up that much money from libraries’ coffers, then take that money and invest it in expanding the library’s rather inadequate CD collection.

  196. Stephanie Says:

    I do not work for our local library but some of the comments prompted me to ask my local library. Here is what they said. If it matters, I live in Canada.

    Freegal’s agreement with Sony Music Entertainment limits the number of songs that can be downloaded per library card holder per week, so that’s why that restriction is in place. Freegal would love to allow more than the 3/week.

    Like subscriptions to other online databases, the Public Library pays a set subscription fee per year for Freegal. It is not limitless and it is budgetted with other library expenses. Since the total cost is capped, there is no risk of over-expending our budget on this service. The average cost per download actually decreases the more the service is used! Currently, the cost is approximately $0.90 per download.

    By offering Freegal, the Public Library is responding to the demand for downloadable music from our community. Freegal is the primary provider of downloadable popular music to public libraries in Canada and the United States, in contrast to most other digital music that is marketed directly to individual consumers.

    We have no concerns with the Freegal company. There has been no bad experiences. As for the limitation to Sony music only, that is not a concern at this time. Maybe over time…

  197. Tourist In The City Says:

    I have mixed thoughts, glad for the sweet deal yet baffled how it can be a valid service to my New York City library. Here’s my experience with Freegal and the NYPL. I’ve used libraries since I was 4. I’ve used Freegal thru NYPL every week for about two years. I started off briefly with popular songs, then moved to obscure songs by popular acts, then moved to obscure bands, then moved through new genres, then moved to discovering European bands and singers. I’m going to soon head to Japan and Korea.

    But I can’t see that it’s cost effective for the NYPL. The link isn’t easy to find on their web page so it won’t really attract new customers to the NYPL. I’m certainly not a new customer: I visit a local branch every 10 days or so.

    Maybe my path of discovery alone is their payoff. If so, it’s a win-win. Maybe the cool kids don’t mind that the link is buried in a menu to a menu, or maybe the phone app makes it worthwhile. Personally, I wish someone there would talk about its usage in a blog post, or something. It’s not just taxes that pays for it; every year we’re asked for donations, and every year we’re asked to protest! budget cuts.

    By the way, some folks wrote about disrupted downloads. I’ve never had a problem using the web page, but in any event you’re allowed two or three downloads of each song, for just that reason. There’s even a link to a list of my recent downloads.

  198. Issues with digital downloads in libraries | emortensen Says:

    [...] Librarian in Black blog offers a scathing criticism of Freegal, essentially calling on fellow librarians not to use [...]

  199. DS Says:

    The consumer complaints are disgusting. You are complaining about not getting enough FREEBIES. Yes there is a limit of 3 songs per week, but it’s free AND legal. First world problems… The only real concern with Freegal should be the economic sustainability for the libraries using the service. However, this blog post just says it’s unsustainable without concretely saying why…

  200. Chuck Darwin Says:

    DS, No, that is incorrect, they are not strictly “freebies.” The service is paid for by the library, which is paid for by the community’s tax dollars. And you get 5 “freebies” per week now. I believe the amount being made by Freegal and Sony (all the artists on Freegals are contracted with Sony) on average is ninety cents per download, which is paid for by the tax payers. Consumer complaints are as legitimate here as they are with anything for which consumers are paying money.

  201. Chuck Darwin Says:

    DS, Also, Sarah (Houghton, the keeper of this blog who wrote the above) does state very concretely why the service might be unsustainable. Here, I’ll copy/paste the relevant paragraphs explaining why it is unsustainable. I have put two asterisks at the beginning of the paragraph that explains the concrete reasons why/how Freegal is unsustainable:

    “Why are we buying pay-per-use MP3s?
    I believe that without really thinking it through, libraries who have subscribed to Freegal have created a fundamental change in their library’s collection policy and expenditures.

    **Libraries typically buy one copy of something, and then lend it out to multiple users sequentially, in order to get a good return on investment. Participating in a product like Freegal means that we’re not lending anymore, we’re buying content for users to own permanently so they don’t have to pay the vendor directly themselves. This puts us in direct competition with the vendor’s sales directly to consumers, and the vendors will never make more money off of libraries than they will off of direct consumer sales.

    What that does is put libraries in a position of being economic victims of our own success. I would think that libraries would remember this lesson from our difficulties with the FirstSearch pay-per-use model that most of us found to be unsustainable.

    The more popular our service gets, the less able we are to meet demand. The private industry is moving away from pay-per-use. Netflix, Rdio, etc. are offering all-you-can-eat models instead on a subscription model. Freegal puts us in danger of manufacturing a demand we can no longer meet. The pay-per-use model undermines the economic power of libraries, which is to aggregate our communities’ buying power and take advantage of the economies of scale. I believe strongly that buying a product like Freegal could be damaging to libraries’ long-term economic sustainability.”

    Ps. Sorry about the typos in my most previous post to this one.

  202. Tre Says:

    hello, i was just wanting to know why there is no contact information to contact freegal music llc. there is a very limited selection of music on this website.

  203. Sarah Says:

    The company’s name is Library Ideas. Here’s their website:

  204. John Parks Says:

    other than their site being slow and not offering advanced search options, I am thankful my local library offers this service

  205. Robin G Says:

    Well, in the 2 years since you originally posted this, Freegal hasn’t improved their search function. (Well, I hope it hasn’t been improved because it’s pretty bad right now.) I’m a library patron, not a librarian. I was excited when I first found out our library system had free music downloads, but I have to say, I’ve hardly used it. Too hard to remember to come back each week. Too hard to find what I’m looking for even if it’s there. And it usually isn’t there. Oh well.

  206. John Merle Holes Says:

    @Sarah Houghton, I am a new patron of the Seattle Public Library. I signed up for Freegal the day after I got my library card (Monday, May 15th, 2013), and I’ve used the service for two weeks. I have no difficulty in finding music that I want to download from the service so far: I have a huge list of titles that I have been keeping from other streaming services that I’ve listened too, such as radio stations on iTunes and a cable radio station (Music Choice Soundscapes), and there is no way that I could ever afford to purchase all of it.

    Since I have no idea if I will hit the limits of the Freegal service for myself, I am enjoying it on my new Android mobile device that had no music content downloaded to it. My library of downloads will grow over time. Sometimes, it is not possible to download every song from an artist either, so I find that acceptable as well since it ensures that fans of an artist will still be purchasing digital albums occasionally. The Seattle Public Library uses other e-sources for music as well, such as Hoopla, and while I can instantly access entire albums through that service (I’ve borrowed around eight this past week), the extent of the hoopla library is far more limited. I have browsed through nearly the entire New Age genre in the past week and have found only two albums that I would consider Favorites and only a handful of others that I would even want to listen to again.

    Working in the game industry, I have been a strong anti-pirate advocate for many years now, but one thing that I have always found disconcerting about free music services is that, when they have too much content available, what is to keep the consumer from just continuing to discover new content rather than settling on favorite artists? I had downloaded hundreds of hours of MP3s in the ambient genre from’s initial heyday, and I had only made it to the letter “C” in all of the artists that fell into that category before the service was taken offline and revamped with a lot less free content. Buying content can be limited by garden sites too, such as my purchases from iTunes: iTunes definitely does not have all of the available content for some artists. Then I’m limited to sources like Amazon to track down actual physical copies for purchase when libraries fail me.

    So my initial impression of Freegal is that it’s part of a spectrum of e-services that anyone with a participating library can avail themselves of. That Freegal has the Sony record label content is its saving grace. There are pay services that would not interest me as much as Freegal if it were a pay service for customers because of this. In the early days of eMusic, for example, most of its music was from independent artists and labels and not really in genres in which I am interested.

  207. badgrad Says:

    excellent and informative post – just learned that tucson libraries (pima county libraries) uses freegal, and that users are limited to ten downloads a week. perhaps the pricing has changed since the post date in 2011.

  208. mike rowlands Says:

    I am a tax payer and i use Freegal and I like it. It is the responiability of the library system to decide the value , not mine

  209. Bay Area Librarian Says:

    Thank you Sarah for contributing this post on Freegal. I am a librarian — I work for a college in the area — but do not work in a public library, but happened to notice at one time that San Jose Public offered Freegal with its “3 free downloads per week” and I was intrigued and made it a point to follow up with the vendor. Haha I guess I do often fall victim to technolust and thought how cool it would be for students and other faculty to be able to download “free” music from the library. (I do notice that SJPL may have failed to renew their contract with Freegal, since I now see the only eMusic product offered is through OverDrive.)

    Thank you for your very illuminating blog post! I had no idea what the cost would be for us to subscribe to a service like this, but doubtless the cost would far exceed what we have available in our very slim e-resources budget. I am also wary of any vendor whose web presence consists of a single page. (?) I also fear that opening up lines of communication with a sales rep would make me prey for cold calls and — even worse — cold visits that I would need to fend off.

  210. heather in CT Says:

    I disagree with a Public library using public (or even non-public, unless specially designated) funds to purchase material for individuals, that can’t be used by others. This is not collection development.

    In the current academic setting I am in this product has not been requested. However, as a local taxpayer and public library user I think this is an unfair use of the public library budget. The public library would not purchase a book for me that couldn’t be read by others, electronic or print. Why should music be any different.

    As individuals we may not use everything the public library has to offer, but every item they purchase should be available to all.

    I can think of so many different ways to say this…

  211. library patron in AZ Says:

    I enjoy using Freegal, even though I don’t always find what I want and the three-download limit is a pain because I am impatient. I agree that the search feature is a bit primitive and frustrating, but I do like seeing so many artists and genres. I have taken a chance on music that I have never heard before and I think that’s great.

    PS badgrad: Patrons of the Pima County Library System have never been allowed more than 3 downloads per week — where did you get your information? Have you heard that it’s going to change?

  212. Beckie parks Says:

    As a library cardholder, i like freegal. It’s one of the only ways i’ve found to get music that is actually free. 3 downloads a week is not very many, but better than none. Freegal does not, however, always work properly and is pretty slow. I would definately not pay for this service.

  213. Michelle Says:

    Thank you for solving the mystery for me. I could not for the life of me figure out why 9 out of 10 artists were missing from search results. I was really dying to know why so many artists were missing from the site. It seems like I have to spend an hour searching until I find a song they actually have. So what if they are free if I have to work for an hour! Definitely not worth the frustration.

  214. Jim Carigan Says:

    Michelle — I have been collecting jazz recordings for 60 years. I have found a total treasure trove of additional tracks from my favorites. At 3 downloads per week, I will never run out of new discoveries. The best finds are the ones that I have never seen in digital format anywhere else.

  215. Jim Carigan Says:

    In response to a post above: How would this not be interpreted as collection development?

    • Millions of songs from ten thousand labels including the labels of Sony Music Entertainment.

    • Tens-of-thousands of popular artists in hundreds of musical genres.

    • Simultaneous access to all music for all patrons.

  216. Scott Robinson Says:

    Hmmm. I’m just a library patron and taxpayer. I wasn’t aware of how this was priced to libraries (and therefore to taxpayers). I used Freegal through my country (Salt Lake County) library, and I’m happy with it, in general. I would prefer more record labels to sign on to the service, yes. And the search functions / website have not been the best. However, the way I look at it, the positives are: 1) county taxes I pay have not increased because my library signed up with Freegal, which is as close to free as it gets, 2) it’s legal (and I don’t get that crummy “I’m not fully honest” feeling after ripping a DVD that I checked out from the library), 3) the popular CD’s take MONTHS to receive after reserving, and Freegal is instant, and 4) if I’m already paying taxes to cover the cost of Freegal, and I don’t use it, well, that’s a good I could have received but did not. I know there are others with different points of view. At least from this one library patron, I appreciate Freegal.

  217. 6 Freegal Music Sites - Pop Revelations Says:

    […] Just say no to Freegal | Librarian in Black Blog Sarah HoughtonApr 13, 2011 – […]

  218. Kevin Says:

    Interesting to note that this post is still getting responses, more than 2 years after it was originally posted. Clearly you’ve touched a nerve.

    I don’t LIKE Freegal, but I USE Freegal. If our Library system decided not to renew its subscription, I wouldn’t shed any tears, but I agree with Scott and others that if it’s there, I might as well try to make use of it as best as I can. That’s not always easy, for reasons already well discussed above.

    Is Freegal an unwise use of tax dollars? Arguably so. But our county has so MANY unwise tax allocations that perhaps you’ll forgive me for not being too aggressive in castigating one that actually provides the average citizen some benefit, no matter how slight. And because I reside in a relatively wealthy county, the amount of money we’re talking about really is a drop in the bucket.

    One thing I disagree with the OP about is the assertion that the money used to pay for Freegal could and should be used to pay for additional CDs for circulation. I have always felt that CDs were a poor choice of media for general circulation. They are far too fragile (and their jewel cases even more so), and people too negligent of things they do not own. I’ve stopped borrowing CDs from my library because they are inevitably in such bad shape. The question for me has become “do I borrow a CD and hope it’s actually playable, or save myself the frustration and see if the tracks I’m looking for are available on Freegal?” Of course, Freegal offers its very own form of frustration, but that’s another story.

  219. Charles David Roberts Says:

    As a library patron who is also a music biz veteran, permit me to share my views.

    1) Libraries buy books for their patrons to share, not own. It should be no different for music. CDs and DVDs are digital. They are also shared by patrons, not given away. Do libraries plan to buy films to give away to some of their patrons too?

    2) The Freegal website does NOT work. In fact, it would confound any music lover who is familiar with Google or any other search engine on any music site.

    3( Do the composers and artists get paid for specific paid-for-by-libraries-downloads of their music? With a website that inferior, I don’t see how Freegal could possibly keep track of royalties as ITunes/Amazon and all the streaming services do.. And so, what are libraries doing ripping off musicians and composers?

    4) Freegal only licenses music from Sony, a company that shows no ties to Freegal publicly. If you go to and enter “Freegal” into that search engine, you’ll come up with nothing. Google searches show Freegal has never been profiled or even mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, NY Times etc whereas Sony itself is constantly covered. There is NO mention of Freegal anywhere on Wikipedia in entries covering Sony or anywhere else on that site either. What’s the big secret? Sony does NOT seem to be directly tied to Freegal, except by verbal claims made by Freegal’s own sales team. This is by no means business as usual. Can a librarian find out for me if Freegal is part of the Sony conglamerate, and if not, what company owns Freegal’s logo and trademark?

    4) There are many non-Sony albums on Freegal that are international imports known for never paying anyone for anything. They assume the music in their packages are no longer covered by U.S.copyright law unless someone sends a legal letter to these hard-to-find pirates of American music.

    IMHO, based on a remarkable dearth of facts to the contrary. It appears that Freegal is not what it claims to be. Have they ever shown librarians how royalties are paid to artists and composers? Can Freegal produce artists and composers who’ve received royalties from Freegal?

  220. Greg Spradlin Says:

    Speaking as a classical music listener, Freegal’s search capabilities stink. A few weeks ago, I downloaded a few movements of Ralph Vaughn Williams’s First Symphony. I made the mistake of not bookmarking or recording a link to it. Today I searched Freegal for about 20 minutes for it so I could download the remaining tracks. I searched by composer, by the conductor, by “Symphony 1″, and could not find the album. I e-mailed my library to complain, because the taxpayers, through the library, are paying something for this, I don’t know how much, and I suggested the library send Freegal some “feedback” or shop for an alternative service.

    I also complained to my library that some of their classical CDs that I had borrowed in the past, enjoyed, but foolishly not ripped for myself had disappeared from their shelves and/or online catalogue.

  221. Linda Says:

    I have been SO frustrated with Freegal that in my search to find a customer service contact, I ran into this blog. I have been using Freegal for some time and I cannot say it has been a good experience. I’m sure there are some users that have had a good experience but I’m not one. And I can vouch for friends and family who are also not a Freegal fan.
    For the last several weeks I have not been able to access Freegal, neither on their website nor on the Freegal app. Currently as I type I get an error that the “Authentication server is down”. Other times it is “Freegal is experiencing some difficulties. While even other times there is no explanation for failing to log me in. And as a test I used other vailid numbers from family members to try to log in with the same results so it isn’t my number or password that is the problem. Needless to say I have not been granted my allotted downloads for several weeks.
    Other complaints are that a good percentage of music I search for is not offered on the Freegal site. There are so many songs that are only offered only as re-recordings, a live version, or even as a karaoke version. I’m pretty certain that most people want the radio versions that they hear on the radio. The music I search for is NOT offered more often than it is offered. I’m not searching for off the wall music and top hits music are in low supply.
    The site lags so much. The UI could be so much better. The quality of the music varies.
    I tried using the app and I have just as many issues. I wrote a review of that app explaining some of these issues with a low star rating and Freegal deleted my review. My family member also wrote a low star rated review as a test and the review was deleted as well.
    That is a red flag IMO. Freegal is an unprofessional service that I would never recommend to anyone. After I speak to my library about my problems, I am hoping they reconsider using its service. I can’t fathom them paying another dime to a service that has such shady practices.
    I’m so disappointed :(

  222. stephanie johnson Says:

    As a library patrion I love Freegal.

  223. Jillian Says:

    Hi All:

    I had commented over a year ago stating I really do like Freegal. I have started volunteering at my local library here in the Midwest and we recently subscribed to Freegal Music. We do market it in our library a lot and supposedly get good usage. Does everyone not know that Freegal Music is NOT a pay-per-use service anymore? I was told by some staff that we pay a flat fee for the year. So it doesn’t matter if 10 people use it or 10,000 people, we pay the same price. I’m guessing it’s by how big our town is. Just my two cents. I do have a tough time with the search engine, but the more I use it, the better I get at it.

  224. QT Says:

    Hi All,

    Thank you for the interesting post, and the many comments. I have yet to use Reegal but it is offered at my public library… I am not sure I even want to try it after reading all this.

    I found it very intriguing that Nathan from Australia found Freegal less expensive then iTunes.. makes sense there. Here in North America, I am still thinking it over.

  225. QT Says:

    Any response to this article, or if Brian Downing is a real person?

  226. Sarah Says:

    I am not a fan of Freading either.

  227. Geeks Are the Future: A Program in Ann Arbor, MI, Argues for a Resource Shift Toward IT Says:

    […] use by its registered cardholders (Sarah Houghton-Jan, who blogs as the Librarian in Black recently criticized Freegal’s pricing and other policies. Brian Downing, the CEO of Library Ideas LLC, which owns […]

  228. Greg Spradlin Says:

    I’m not a librarian, so I can’t comment on many issues raised here. I can download three tracks a week from Freegal through my local public library. I am interested only in downloading classical music. Freegal does seem to have a vast array of classical music available, and 3 tracks a week is enough for my needs. But there is a big problem:

    FREEGAL’S SEARCH ENGINE STINKS!!!!!!!! It is often almost impossible to find a specific classical recording even when you know just about everything about it. For example, I downloaded three movements of a four-movement symphony, and foolishly forgot to record a URL or the exact steps I took to find them. I have been unable to find the fourth movement even though I know the composer, the number of the symphony, and even the name of the orchestra. Freegal has Help and FAQ pages with suggestions that should be familiar to anyone who has ever used a search engine, and which should work if one were using a good search engine.

  229. Ruth Says:

    I haven’t read all the comments (yet) but wanted to throw in my two cents. Freegal never sold me. I wanted them to. I did. I just couldn’t get past their limited online presence (this is supposed to be a tech company after all, right?) or their business model (we’re just buying things for our patrons so they don’t need to load money to their iTunes account?). During the trial, I did some stats on how many of the 2013 Grammy winners were available. It was less than 50%. Not good enough. Even so, I almost did it. Almost. I was talking with a sales rep on the phone. I’d talked with my board. I’d talked with my staff. I’d talked with some patrons. I’d laid out my hopes and my concerns. We were going to go ahead despite my concerns. Then the sales rep stopped calling and emailing. Huh? I’m not sure what happened, and I seriously didn’t care. We’re going to be going with Hoopla. Again, I’m not completely pleased with the business model (pay per use) but it fills some holes for us and I’ve always had good experiences with MidWest Tape (even though I think they’re expensive).

  230. Carly Says:

    I downloaded a freegal song and it didn’t show up in my music so I clicked on the same song and it said already downloaded except that it wasn’t in my music.

  231. Tangoing All the Way: Is Everything Negotiable? Says:

    […] those prices with each other, nor do we share our experiences with the products themselves. In Sarah Houghton-Jan’s candid post about Freegal, she identifies three reasons for librarians’ […]

  232. AD Says:

    As a patron I don’t understand why anyone would complain about a downloading cap for FREE music. Regardless of if they would rather have more or not, how ungrateful must you be to complain about something that you do NOT have to spend anything for??? I appreciate my library for offering this service, and I care not about the fact that it may take me however long to download the entire album!! If i wanted the album that bad then I would just go ahead and buy it! I have been using the service and there have been songs that I have gone ahead and bought on Itunes just because I couldn’t wait another week to get it from Freegal! I cannot comment on this from a librarian stand point but from a library patron standpoint I feel its extremely ungrateful for someone to go and complain about A. the cap and B. the fact that there is only Sony music. If someone cant find what they are looking for from this service then they need to just go ahead and BUY IT as they would have done if the service did not exist. ORR just LIVE WITHOUT THE SONG. Its really not that serious. I will graciously come back every week and download my free music until there is nothing on there that I want! And I will be happy and enjoy my tunes that I did not have to pay for.

  233. David Krieg Says:

    If you wanted to distribute music without having to pay as much as Freegal charges for music then why don’t you take all your cds and rip the mp3 files off. Then you could put all of the mp3s in a large central database and give each member of the library a username and passcode to enter and then download a certain restricted number of mp3s in a week, month, and year. If this just wouldn’t work out, tell me. I’m only 14.

  234. Sarah Says:

    The method you suggest is physically possible, but legally non-viable. Ripping CDs and transferring them into a file sharing environment would be, strictly speaking, a violation of the copyright law. The library, and potentially the people using it, could be sued by the record companies or other interested parties.

  235. Kilyle Says:

    Although I can certainly see some areas Freegal ought to upgrade soon – such as being able to search by language and to browse songs without having to go into individual albums – on the whole I am pleased by Freegal. Hearing that it’s a bit more expensive than buying them from Amazon etc. gives me some mixed feelings. But I think the “Why are we buying one-use digital media” argument is wrong-headed.

    Digital data is most natural dealt with by copying it. Nothing else the human race has ever dealt with is anything like digital data, and we’re still adjusting to the change in thought process. The fact is that is it far cheaper and easier to let digital data be copied around than to put controls in place to prevent it from doing so – trying to keep it in one location at a time is nonsense. So the reason I accepted the general idea of Freegal as compatible with libraries is that it makes more sense to have digital data move freely (I downloaded three songs and now I own them and can do as I like with them) than to hold it in an iron fist (I downloaded three songs but they self-destruct after one week, and/or I have to let spy software get on my computer to use them, and/or I have to “return them” to the library before the next user can “check them out,” etc.).

    Not only are there workarounds to any DRM (if nothing else, recording it as it’s translated to the speakers: the digital-analog hole), but our laws are actually built around the right to copy and make free use of copyrighted material for specific purposes, and the various DRM that have sprung up over time have actually made it more difficult to assert our legal rights to comment, criticize, parody, and so forth.

    I hope Freegal gets around to getting a better selection of music, but at present it’s actually got a pretty good set of non-English music, and I’m glad for that.

  236. Lynda Says:

    It’s Free Music Monday and Freegal’s website appears to be down and I am so disappointed! I look forward to my 3 free songs every week! I am finally building an iTunes library with all my old favorites. You know what I especially love about Freegal? It’s not only free, it’s LEGAL. Everyone knows what happens these days when you “borrow” a CD from the library. You take it home and stick it in your computer and rip it to iTunes. I felt terribly guilty doing that. I simply wanted the songs in digital form but of course if you don’t own the CD, it’s just like stealing. So, THANK YOU to my local library for participating in Freegal! Hope the website is up and running soon.

    Just for kicks, would you like to see some of the songs I’ve downloaded thru Freegal? …. Just please don’t post comments about my musical taste or lack thereof … I am in my 40s and don’t keep up with the current popular music among the younger generations.

    Here’s a sampling! Maybe you will see something you’d like to download, too!

    THE ’50s: Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis, The Book of Love by The Monotones, Mack the Knife by Louis Armstong, Good Golly Miss Molly by Little Richard, Blue Velvet by Bobby Vinton, Chantilly Lacy by Big Bopper, Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash.

    THE ’60s: Chain Gang by Same Cooke, Calendar Girl by Neil Sedaka, Crazy by Patsy Cline, Sealed with a Kiss by Brian Hyland, Sheila by Tommy Roe, Turn Turn Turn by the Byrds, People Get Ready by The Impressions, Cherish by The Association, Secret Agent Man by Johnny Rivers, When a Man Loves a Woman by Percy Sledge, The Letter by The Box Tops, Up Up and Away by The Fifth Dimension, Jackson by June Carter Cash, To Sir With Love by Lulu, Dedicated to the One I love by The Mamas & The Papas, Honey by Bobby Goldsboro, A Hazy Shade of Winter by Simon & Garfunkel, YOu’ve Made Me So Very Happy by Blood Sweat & Tears.

    THE ’70s: You LIght Up my Life by Debby Boone, Mother and Child Reunion by Paul Simon, Kodachrome by Paul Simon, Baby I’m-A-Want You, by Former Members of Bread, Shining Star by Earth Wind & Fire, Stir It Up by Johnny Nash, Love Train by The O’Jays, Hold the Line by Toto, Sunshine On My Shoulders by John Denver, Longer by Dan Fogelberg, Piano Man by Billy Joel, Oye Como Va by Santana, Dust in the Wind by Kansas, Abc by Jackson 5.

    THE ’80s: 867-5309 by Tommy Tuton, The Break Up Son by Greg Kihn Band, Walk Like an Egyptian by The Bangles, Caribbean Queen by Billy Ocean, Making Love Out of Nothing at All by Air Supply, Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Rock the Casbah by The Clash, What I like About You by The Romantics, Rock Me Amadeus by Falco, I Ran So Far Away by A Flock of Seagulls, We Built This City by Starship, When I See You Smile by Bad English, Leader of the Ban by Dan Fogelberg, Who’s Zoomin’ Who by Aretha Franklin, The Safety Dance by Men Without Hats, Faithfully by Journey, Eye of the Tiger by Survivor, Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler, She’s Got a Way by Billy Joel, Angel of the Morning by Juice Newton, ’65 Love Affair by Paul Davis, Who Can It Be Now? by Men at Work, Somebody’s Watching Me by Rockwell Mania.

    The ’90s: Follow You Down by Gin Blossoms, No More I Love You’s by Annie Lennox, Whiter Shade of Pale by Michael Bolton, Livin La Vida Loca by Ricky Martin.

  237. Tom Hilgartner Says:

    As a library PATRON (Kanawha County Public Library in Charleston, West Virginia) my first response was “Cool! Free songs!” And I plan, btw, to check out Freegal and take advantage of the free music. I haven’t done so yet, so I can’t speak to the Freegal product, except in principle.

    That said, I have to agree with this blog. Freegal does NOT sound like a good use of libraries’ limited budgets–even if it were sustainable, which it probably isn’t.

    Libraries need to continue to be in the forefront of the multiple-usage of a single item via free LENDING movement. If our societies are to succeed for the long-term, they have no choice but to begin doing this on a massive scale…not just with libraries. And libraries will need to be there to provide a model of how this can meaningfully be done with all manner of consumable items, from bikes and cars to recyclables and reuseables of all descriptions.

    Libraries ought to be demanding (and/or creating!) free music archives similar in kind and design to The Gutenberg Project. I’d be willing to bet that, once established, millions of musicians would be willing to share their covers of post-copyrighted songs for free public consumption. I suspect that some musicians and/or labels would be willing to share original versions of post-copyrighted music as well, though that might be a harder sell.

    Clearly, that wouldn’t give away the Latest New Thing to hit the charts, but that’s ok.

    Besides, SOMEBODY ought to be preserving all those old 78-recordings before they are lost.

  238. Mary Rayme Says:

    I was researching Freegal for my library and thought their website was very fishy and opaque. Who are they? Where are they located? What is the price? None of that was on the website.

    And only 3 downloads a week? That is nothing, esp. when informed music junkies can download on underground music sharing sites and download hundreds of songs per day.

    Not a good return on investment.

    Great article, and great comments. Thanks for posting this, Librarian in Black.

  239. john, who is incognito and definitely not at work Says:

    We’ve been with Freegal for awhile now, and I have to say that their customer service leaves a lot to be desired. Every time we write them to report an issue, we get back a response which is just oozing with indifference, and sometimes they don’t even know what they’re talking about. As an example, we wrote in to report a patron complaint that sample clips don’t play on the iPad. They wrote back saying “use a different browser.” We did some testing and found that sample clips don’t play in any of the default browsers on any of the major handheld devices. Presumably sample clips are played in Flash, which no major device supports out of the box (though you can usually install an app which makes the device support Flash). Their response to that? ‘Use the app.” Never mind that the app doesn’t have all the same features as the site, which is already underwhelming!

    So, let’s see: a major feature of the website doesn’t work on any of these devices out of the box: the iPad, the iPhone, the Kindle Fire, the Nook, the Nexus, the Galaxy Tab. And their response is basically ::shrugs::.


  240. R. E. Woods Says:

    I live in a suburb of Cleveland Ohio. Cleveland Public Library (CPL) is part Clevenet, a consortium of 44 library systems in 12 counties of northern Ohio. CPL offers Freegal to their cardholders. My card has a Cleveland profile so I am able to use Freegal. I also have cards for 6 other independent (not in Clevenet) libraries in my county and 2 neighboring counties. One of the cards had Freegal for a year and dropped it. Two of the 6 independents currently offer Freegal so I am currently download 9 songs each week. I, for the most part, do not rip library cds unless I own the vinyl. Since I have been using using Freegall for over 2 years, I have acquired over 450 songs. While the website leaves a lot to be desired, I have benefited greatly from Freegal. I have discovered many artist. Some of Freegal’s classification are strange and the search engine and overall website had made it real chore to get free music, but like any chore you just do it.

  241. The Ebook Cargo Cult Says:

    […] (by the company that offers Freegal) provides pay-per-download, DRM-encoded […]

  242. Louise Helland Says:

    Count me as a happy camper – library user & my family LOVES the service. For those who complain about the limits – they need to be grateful for what they are getting!

  243. Tamar Kirschner Says:

    We at OPL have had Freegal (the unlimited access model) for one year and have been going back and forth about renewing or going with Hoopla. I think we feel better about working with Midwest generally, and we like the idea of loaning entire albums instead of giving individual tracks. We wonder if our younger patrons aren’t more accustomed to permanent downloads of single tracks rather than temporarily streaming or downloading entire albums. Of course, the selection is very limited with either vendor, but the Sony limitation seems more limiting. On the other hand, even at the moderate use we’ve been seeing, the cost per checkout will still be higher with Hoopla’s pay-per-use model. It sounded better to me initially to only be on the hook for what gets used, but that doesn’t pencil out for us. Anyone have further thoughts in comparing the two? We know they are both flawed, but it’s pretty much going to be one or the other for us, or both, since Hoopla has no additional platform fee.

  244. Michael Says:

    I enjoyed your post. I don’t work at a library, I’m just a consumer of its products.

    I’ve enjoyed using Freegal. I use both my account and my wife’s account, to total 6 songs / week. So far, I’ve downloaded 345 songs. I was a bit disappointed with the lack of selection, but happy that there were some very good choices given to me.

    The search capabilities of the website are a bit limited. The browsing capabilities are daunting (too many choices). So far, I’ve searched elsewhere (such as Pandora) to get ideas of artists and albums I like, and then see if they are offered on Freegal. Some are, most aren’t. Using this approach, I’ve downloaded many enjoyable albums.

    I agree that it may not be the best use of the library’s budget if they’re paying about $1 per song that I download. It doesn’t seem sustainable. However, as long as it’s offered at my library, I’ll continue to download music. After reading your post, I will still be a little bummed if they stopped using Freegal, but at least I would be able to understand the perspective of the Library administrators.


  245. Deidra Anderson Says:

    please excuse my lack of grammar as i am making this comment of my phone and it doesnt all ways read my key strokes.

    I am a library user so I can’t really say weather it’s good or bad as far as the library comments are concerned. i just went to use it for the frist time on my smartphone and like always wanted to get the facts before putting something new on my phone. but I am disappointed to find out my library has been using a product as this because I pay taxes I go to the library lot and i wont say i am perfect because i pay quite a few fines. to spend half your budget on one product is ridiculous I understand that we are trying to move more into the technological age butI don’t want to be bankrupting themselves to do it.

    further more there must be a better way to provide these types of services.

    the library shouldn’t be paying to fill all of it’s patrons personal music library. things are better shared.

  246. Deidra Anderson Says:

    this is why I like the overdrive on the ebooks because everything gets returned it is multiple use for multiple people after reading this blog I worry that maybe it is pay-per-use well and I should do research

  247. Jules Says:

    Integrity and customer service Should Be expected and given when money is exchanged between a vendor and its client.
    Free gal lacks this understanding and employes “boiler room” tactics, it seems. Promise until paid, then purge from memory.

    Granted, this just my opinion, but when it frequently “stopped working” (direct quote from its website) during a download, yet the tally of that download continues to work even when you don’t receive the song Or have any way of getting that loss corrected; it seems like free gal is “double dipping.” But, wait! Couldn’t it be considered “triple dipping” if they only offer Sony songs? $from library funds, $saved from download failures, $from sony exclusivity…Wow! It’s certainly something to think about. Very, bad form freegal!

  248. Mike Says:

    I am a patron, not a librarian. However, I can do math. 3 downloads per week. 4 weeks in a month. That’s 12 downloads per month. You said the cost is just over $1 per track. That’s over $12/month. For that money, the library could buy a user an unlimited music subscription at a service like Google Play Music All Access ($10/month). There’s got to be a better way for libraries to provide digital music content to its patrons. If there isn’t now, there will be eventually once some savvy business person catches wind of this gap.

  249. Leslie Says:

    Great review, and I don’t mean to criticize it when I say Freegal has changed a lot in the three years since this article was written.

    Our library pays a flat fee that includes 3 downloads per patron per week and 3 hours of streaming music per patron per day. They could pay more for us to get 5 downloads per week, but they opted to use those funds for something else. They could save some money by not offering streaming, but they opted to include it. But it’s a flat rate fee now, not a pay-per-download fee. So the more people use it, the greater the value.

    In the time I have been using Freegal, they have changed their search significantly. It’s still not perfect but it is a LOT better than it used to be.

    I don’t find the 3 downloads per week to be problematic. Freegal has a “wishlist” feature and when I have time to browse Freegal, I just add items to my wishlist. Then I make sure to login each week and grab three items from my wishlist. It’s super fast and I don’t feel like I miss out if I am really busy one week and don’t have time to browse the collection to find something I want to hear.

    They also have a mobile app now, which means you can keep your music collection on your iOS or Android devices as well as on your PC. It is a little tedious because you have to move everything through iTunes to get it onto an iOS device, but that’s Apple, not Freegal.

    Regarding limited offerings, this is from their FAQ. “A more than doubling of the content. Freegal Music now consists of over 7 million songs from over 28,000 labels that originate in over 80 countries. This includes the complete catalog of Sony Music Entertainment, in your home country, on the day of release.”

    Like I said, things have changed.

  250. Omar Says:

    Carly, with Freegal, once you are logged in andndownload a song, you own it whicj means you can go back and download it as many times as you need to. Exclusiclve if any daily/weekly/monthly limits.

  251. Dustin Says:

    As an ex-pirate, i dig that my library has freegal, the Android app leaves more to be desired (it said already downloaded song when i didn’t see a download notification, but typing the song name in google music, showed that the sing did download and played fine) but the website i log in with my library number is pretty straight forward, i don’t think it’s trying to be a thing where you download free albums so the limit (5 songs a week in LA) seems pretty reasonable to me, all week i try to think of what 5 songs i could download… As with anything free i often say “good for the price”, but if Los Angeles library is paying for all my downloads that are free to me i appreciate it even more. Stoked to start searching for classical (greg spradlin)

  252. em will Says:

    Freegal Search: Not good for these reasons:

    1. Song “I Know One”: brings up “One Direction” (who didn’t record a song with this title, but one of the words in the title, but is a current group) on the first page, but not country singers I have recorded versions: Jim Reeves, for example.

    2. Jim Reeves would have come up first in my previous search, say a year or more ago, when I downloaded it. Searching on Freegal used to be more productive. Seems there’s a bias to current groups (???)

    3. My Conclusion: I generally don’t use Freegal’s search for anything but the name of the album you want songs from, and the name of the artist.

    Anybody have any similar experiences?

  253. Michael Wood Says:

    I tried this site and it did not work for me. It said I had 3 downloads remaining and yet every time I tried to download all I got was a message saying ‘limit met.’ So after trying repeatedly and getting the same message on multiple MP3′s, despite it still saying I had 3 downloads left, I gave up.

  254. ruthie Says:

    As a library patron, I love freegal and am very happy to use it till the next best thing comes along. I don’t like the freegal UI but it’s usable. Like someone else said I love the wishlist feature. From a library management angle obviously there are a lot of things I know nothing about, but as an end user I love freegal. I wonder why the original author hasn’t posted in awhile, and if her opinion has changed or is the same. After 3 yrs if there is no competition for freegal there may never be. I’m so glad my library is open minded enough to try it. If I wake up tomorrow and they decide the funds spent on freegal can be better utilized elsewhere that is fine with me, but until then I appreciate freegal and the “free” music.

  255. ruthie Says:

    Hi! I came back to say any free music that includes Stevie Ray Vaughn is tops in my book.

    After reading all this I went to my library’s Facebook page, messaged them and told them thank you for the Freegal music, that I appreciate it, and that I know at any budget review the Freegal music could be dropped in lieu of a more needed service, and that was totally fine with me. Anything for kids needs to come before free music, for example.

  256. Mike Says:

    As a user, the service is good in concept, but the site is highly flawed. The search function is almost unusable and the site is often bogged down, making it impossible to navigate. Song previews don’t work many times and sometimes you try to download a song and it just fails (you only get to retry twice before it disappears, but still counts against your limit). I don’t mind the limit, but at least let me have the songs I’m supposed to be getting.

    To make matters worse, there’s no way to contact anyone regarding such problems. All they have is a FAQ. No contact info whatsoever.

    I really like the idea of being able to download songs as opposed to streaming albums (which I would not do), but there has to be a better way of doing it. I guess you get what you pay for from the user end, but libraries should be demanding more of this vendor.

  257. RoBeast Rollie Says:

    I haven’t experienced any major issues with Freegal until I noticed that there was one particular album not properly streaming or downloading. That itself isn’t the problem though–I simply can’t find a way to notify Freegal or report it. Seems strange to me.

    Anyway, you raised some interesting issues I wasn’t aware of before. I’ve only started recently using the service and wonder if they’ve changed any of their practices since the original post. I know I am now able to download 5 tracks a week as opposed to 3.

  258. webitinformer Says:

    I read over your arthcle, and i found it inquisitive, you may find
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