The music comes back to Napster on October 29, when the silenced song-swapper gets reborn as a legitimate and law-abiding online music service, Napster's parent, Roxio, announced yesterday.
Now in beta testing, Napster 2.0, as the new service is called, will offer U.S. music fans a digital music library with more than 500,000 songs available for downloading individually for $US0.99. Albums will also be available for $9.95.
Napster is also selling subscriptions for $9.95 per month, which give users unlimited listening and downloading to their hard drives, 40 commercial-free radio stations and community features, such as the ability to share playlists and e-mail tracks to other Napster users.
While the monthly subscription allows unlimited downloading of songs to the users' hard drives, users would have to pay $0.99 for each song they want to burn to a CD or transfer to a portable device, a Napster spokeswoman said on Thursday. Napster 2.0 is available only to Windows users and there are no plans to support the Macintosh platform, she said.
For no charge, anyone can download the Napster 2.0 service to watch music videos on demand, listen to 30-second music clips, access Billboard charts, read Napster's online magazine "Fuzz" and use a music recommendation engine.
Users can also upload music files from their hard drives to Napster 2.0, in order to have all their music files in one place. Fans can pre-register for the service now at www.napster.com. The statement didn't say when or if Roxio plans to roll out Napster outside of the US.
Napster also announced a partnership with Samsung Electronics to develop portable audio devices. The first Samsung-Napster player will be available starting on October 19 in Best Buy stores.
A partnership with Microsoft will make Napster the featured music service on Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004. Microsoft will also be included in Windows Media Player 9.
Finally, buyers of Gateway Media Center PCs will receive one month of access to Napster 2.0 free of charge if they purchase the machine during the fourth quarter. Later this year, Gateway will be the only PC vendor to ship Napster on all of its consumer desktop PCs, along with 150 pre-loaded songs.
While some question whether Napster is arriving late to this party, the online music service provider market is still very young and poised to grow strongly, from 140,000 households and $12.2 million in revenue in 2001 to over 11 million households and $1.2 billion in revenue in 2006, according to an IDC estimate made in December 2002.
When Roxio bought existing online music service Pressplay in May for $39.5 million to help build up the new Napster, IDC applauded the move, saying Pressplay was one of the most successful players in the market.
"Roxio's acquisition of Pressplay and Napster, in conjunction with its widely distributed PC media software solutions, position the company to make a strong entrance into the paid (music service provider) market," wrote Susan Kevorkian, an IDC analyst, at the time of the acquisition. "The well-known Napster brand name will be important for marketing the service, but ultimately its success will be based on competitive service offerings and pricing and the breadth and depth of music selection."
Napster's first incarnation was as a renegade file-swapping service which music fans used to exchange songs for free. But as Napster's popularity grew, the major record labels went after it in the courts, alleging copyright infringement, which lead to the service's closing over two years ago.
Roxio, a digital media software maker based in California, acquired Napster's intellectual property and technology patents for around $5 million in November 2002, saying an online music service would complement its line of CD and DVD-burning products.
Unlike its predecessor, Napster 2.0 has content agreements with the five major record labels and hundreds of independent labels.
Napster would be competing against several similar services which are already established, such as:
-- RealNetworks' Rhapsody, only for Windows users in the US, provides access to about 325,000 songs. The monthly subscription costs $9.95 and individual songs can be burned onto CDs for $0.79 each.
-- Musicmatch, also for Windows users in the US, has a 200,000 track catalogue and sells individual songs for $0.99 and albums for $9.99, without the need for a monthly subscription.
-- Apple's iTunes music store, which currently only works on Macintosh computers running Mac OS X version 10.1.5 or later, is also only available in the US. At iTunes, individual songs cost $0.99 while albums' prices vary, without the need for a monthly subscription.