Log in to download free MP3s from a catalog of more than 7 million songs. Transfer the tracks to an unlimited number of devices. No ads, no subscriptions, no commitment. It’s not a scam—or illegal. Freegal is Westchester Library System’s latest aria for the digital age.
The service, says Rob Caluori, Westchester Library Systems’ director of IT, “moves libraries toward 24/7 access, where all you need is a library card and the Internet.” Each week, patrons of the County’s 38 local libraries can download three free tracks from more than 50 record labels in 100 genres. The download limit then resets on Monday, when users receive credits for three more tunes.
Freegal’s songbook, organized by a private company, Library Ideas, LLC, spans Sony Music Entertainment’s entire archive and includes everything from acid jazz and Chinese solo instrumental to comedy recordings and edutainment literature. Songs can be synced among iPods, smartphones, and tablets, and never disappear, need to be “returned,” or face sharing limits.
For digital bibliophiles, WLS offers a near-identical e-book service called Freading. Patrons obtain four tokens each Monday that can be exchanged for publications in ePub and PDF formats. Hot new titles cost four tokens, while older ones can cost just one or two. Each e-book has an initial loan period of two weeks, but can be renewed for another two (some token-free).
In December 2012, the services’ first month of access, Westchesterites surpassed estimates to download 546 books and 7,300 songs. Those numbers have stayed pretty consistent, with 527 e-books and 8,401 songs downloaded in June. Library Ideas recently made access even easier, as it rolled out updated Apple and Android mobile apps this year.
Both services are also working on rounding out their repertoires. Freegal includes trendy indie bands like Bossa Nova Beatniks, Kashmir, and Me You Us Them, but offers only tribute bands for The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Madonna. Freading boasts everything from Wuthering Heights to The Hobbit to What to Expect When You’re Expecting. But searching for other famous titles from Harry Potter to Fifty Shades of Grey to Catcher in the Rye, unfortunately, draws blank pages.
This hasn’t discouraged Caluori, who says, “It’s only getting started, and most people are just excited that you don’t need any special software and it’s all completely legal.”