The album will be available as a non-DRM download from MySpace for the first two weeks of release.

Comparisons to Radiohead’s pricing experiment for downloads of their latest album, In Rainbows, are inevitable. However, Pennywise is taking a slightly different approach than letting fans name their own price.

That’s because the free distribution of the album is being funded in part by Textango – a mobile music distribution company. And, while the download will be free for two weeks, that doesn’t mean there are no strings attached. Instead, MySpace users will need to add Textango to their friends lists in order to download the music.

Plus, fans who aren’t MySpace users will have to join the social networking site in order to grab the freebie.

For a company like Textango, the advantages of being involved in such a project are obvious. By making a connection with people already predisposed to downloading music (especially free music) via computers and cell phones, the company can immediately spread the word about its services to consumers most likely to use them. Talk about targeting your audience.

And it also represents a step forward for Pennywise. Recently, the band’s frontman, Jim Lindberg, told the Edmonton Journal that the giveaway will help the group reach those who might not have heard of the band.

“For a band like us, what are we going to do?” Lindberg said in the Edmonton Journal. “Put out another record that goes to the same fans and the same places? When you’ve been around as long as we have – especially in this new environment – having something new is crucial.”

However, in the same article, Lindberg did express reservations about the giveaway, especially about the sponsorship connection.

“I really don’t want it to be a situation where band members have to look like NASCAR drivers, you know how they have advertisements all over their bodies,” said Lindberg.

Although Pennywise and MySpace are on the brink of making music history with the free release, it’s not like the concept is brand new or came to fruition with Radiohead’s download promotion.

For years there has been talk in music industry circles about the importance of offering consumers additional value in their music purchases, often likening the concept to the bottled water industry.

That makes sense if you consider that companies took something that everybody already has access to – water – and by bottling, flavoring or just guaranteeing that the product is free of risk, have turned water into a billion dollar industry. Sure, you can drink your fill from the tap, but maybe it makes more sense for you to drink from a spill-proof bottle while you’re at work or driving. Or maybe that hint of lime is important. No matter, the bottled water industry has found many different ways to distinguish their products, not only from competitors, but also from your kitchen faucet.

It’s that comparison that has been mentioned more than a few times in music biz circles – that labels could give tracks away for free, but offer better packaging, higher fidelity, additional merch, in short, a better experience, for the fans who actually lay down some cash.

And, in some ways, the Pennywise giveaway is a value-added promotion. While fans can grab the new album for free, those who opt for purchasing a physical CD will actually get a CD / DVD version. And the vinyl version of the album will come with two extra tracks.

But will extra tracks and a CD / DVD release entice enough fans into parting with their hard-earned cash to make it all worth while? That remains to be seen. Nevertheless, all eyes will be on Pennywise, MySpace and Textango come March 25.

“We know that this will piss off a lot of people in the music industry,” said Pennywise guitarist Fletcher Dragge. “And what do we say to that? ‘Who cares?’ We’ve been pissing people off for 18 years. Why stop now? … There are lot of people out there who want their music for free, so we got proactive and with the help of MySpace Records and Textango we found a way to make it happen.”