It seems almost odd: the very man who has played a large part in the decline of an industry is now the one most bullish on its future prospects. At the e-G8 conference in Paris, Napster co-founder Sean Parker said that a “bottom” was ahead for the music industry due to new services on the horizon.
Indeed, the industry has lost three-quarters of its value, falling from a $45 billion annual business to about $12 billion. Clearly, a new business model is needed.
Parker is an investor in music service Spotify, and said that the back catalogues that are being made available through services like it are helping to drive growth. While traditional digital music stores were good for selling top-40 hits and singles, they so far have not done well in selling most back-catalogue tracks.
Posted byHarry McCracken on September 20, 2010 at 5:29 pm
The original Napster was a scandalously easy way to get music for free. I’ve just been trying to use the new iPhone app from the latter-day, not-free service that carries the Napster name–and so far, it’s proven to be an annoyingly difficult way to pay for music.
Actually, I haven’t gotten it to accept my money at all. I began by downloading the iPhone app from the App Store and trying to upgrade my existing Napster event to the $10/month plan needed to stream and cache unlimited music on an iOS device. The app sent me to Safari to do the upgrade–and when I got there, I was greeted by an error message.
I tried doing the upgrade on a PC. Same error. Figuring that something might be wrong with my aged Napster account, I started to sign up for a new one, and didn’t see the $10 iOS plan among my options.
Then I noticed that there was no mention of iPhone compatibility on the Napster site. Scratch that–there is a reference to it…one that says that full-blown Napster doesn’t work with Apple devices.
I see no reference to an iPhone app on the Napster blog or in its press releases, so I wonder if the software wandered onto the App Store a bit ahead of schedule.
Posted byHarry McCracken on April 6, 2010 at 10:10 am
When I write about the Rhapsody music service, I usually say nice things but express some caution about its pricing: $15 a month if you want to be able to listen on both computers and mobile devices. Well, the service just spun off from parent company RealNetworks, and its first big move as an independent entity is a major price cut. Rhapsody is now $9.99 a month for a plan that includes unlimited listening on computers and via an iPhone/iPod Touch (and presumably iPad) or Android device.
Posted byHarry McCracken on September 1, 2009 at 11:12 am
AllThingsD’s Peter Kafka is reporting on a neat-sounding Napster client for the iPhone–and the fact that Napster says that high licensing costs for mobile streaming make the app a no-go, so it hasn’t even bothered to submit it to Apple for approval.
Yesterday, Harry wrote about Napster’s new price plan of $5 a month for unlimited online streaming and five MP3 downloads. I was intrigued, so I signed up.
The service isn’t new, but the updated price calls for a fresh evaluation. Consider this a mini review after an afternoon of tinkering.
Software or Cloud: The Web version of Napster is almost as fully-featured as the software, with a sleek pop-out window that acts as the player. The software lets you integrate your existing MP3 library and adds some much-needed right-click functionality.
The Interface: Napster’s interface looks a lot like iTunes, and that’s a good thing. On the left are your navigation headings along with any playlists you create, while the library and artist information resides in the middle. There are also radio stations and an “Automix” feature that throws together familiar and new music based on your tastes.
MP3 Downloads: Every month, you can download five songs. Along with the unlimited streaming, you’re getting far more value than you would from five iTunes tracks.
30 Second Tracks: Leave it to some record labels to dip only a toe into the 21st century. Some labels aren’t cool with offering full tracks, which isn’t cool with me.
$5 Per Month? While Napster cheerily announced the price point in its press release, it conveniently didn’t say that this a limited time offer. The real price is $7 per month, to be reinstated at an unknown date. By spilling the beans yesterday, before the new site and disclaimer were available, we had no reason to assume the price would someday go up when covering the news. That’s underhanded.
No Online Access to Downloaded Music: I imagine this would be technically daunting, but I wish the browser version of Napster would let you play local MP3s. It should at least sync up with your library and add streaming versions of songs you already own.
Minor Gripes: No party shuffle, no importing playlists from iTunes, limited format support (.WMA and .MP3 only) and local MP3s won’t link up to the artist’s online section.
The Verdict: Even if my list of greivances outweighs the positives in number, I’m pretty happy with my investment. Sure, Napster has its share of nuisances tht prevent me from dropping WinAmp and iTunes altogether, and I’m worried that some day the subscription price will creep upwards. But as a tool for listening to and discovering lots of music? You could do a lot worse for five bucks a month.
Naspter’s closest competitor, Rhapsody, charges $12.99 a month for a similar streaming plan that doesn’t include the MP3 downloads; there’s a good chance, presmably, that it will be forced to match Napster’s price. (Both companies still charge a relatively-hefty $14.99 a month for plans that let you download unlimited music to an audio player or phone.) Apple, meanwhile, will likely continue to offer only pay-per-song downloads–and will continue to utterly dominate digital music.
I don’t know the economics behind Napster’s new pricing model, but perhaps Best Buy hopes that all those $5 subscribers will be more likely to do their buying of DRM-free downloads from Napster than from another online merchant. Or perhaps it’s just thinking about the day (coming soon!) when all those CD sections in Best Buy stores go away, and thinking that it’s worthwhile to maintain some relationship with music fans, profit or no profit.
Five bucks a month isn’t free, but it’s close enough that it pretty much removes the cost factor from the question of whether subscription music has any appeal to the masses or not. If you aren’t willing to plunk down $5, you most likely won’t be more interested at $4, $3, $2, or a buck. It’ll be fascinating to see if the new pricing makes a difference–as a lover of competition and low prices, I hope it does, but I make no predictions.
Me, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I’m still as likely to buy a CD as to download tracks. (Okay, not that embarrassed, but the time is coming when purchasing CDs will be as much of a nerdy affectation as collecting vinyl is today. I once subscribed to Napster but let my service lapse years ago; maybe now’s a good time to give it another chance.
Posted byHarry McCracken on May 12, 2009 at 12:47 am
I feel really sorry for the companies, such as Real (with its Rhapsody service), Best Buy (with Napster), and Microsoft (with Zune Pass) that sell subscription music services. Rationally, subscription music makes perfect sense: You pay one monthly rate and get access to the service’s entire library. You can gorge all you want, and if you download an album that turns out not to tickle your fancy, you’ve only wasted a little time.
But none of these services have caught on with the American public on an emotional level–certainly not enough to make them into viable threats to the dominance of Apple’s iPod and iTunes. Apple’s sold billions of songs through iTunes, even though the price of a single album can be the same as other services’ monthly all-you-can-eat flat fee. Every time a consumer downloads a song, it’s a vote in favor of owning music rather than renting it.
Every once in awhile, an Apple competitor tries to make subscriptions sound sexy–or at least smart–via advertising. The latest example is this new Microsoft ad for Zune Pass:
Of course, as Ars Technica notes, Wes Moss–who’s a real guy–does blithely ignore the crucial distinction between digital music’s subscription and buy-to-own variants. Stop paying Microsoft your $14.99 a month, and all your music goes away, but the 99 cents you blow on an iTunes track makes it yours to keep. On the other hand, Moss also doesn’t mention a notable virtue of Zune Pass: the monthly fee lets you keep ten songs. So at least he’s glossing over important facts in a balanced fashion.
An odder thing about the ad: While it shows an iPod, It doesn’t even mention the Zune explicitly. Unless you’re paying reasonably close attention to the digital music wars, it might be unclear to you that what Microsoft is suggesting is that you go out and buy a hardware device called a Zune. I’m not sure if this is intentional on the company’s part–it may be sick of people making fun of its poor little audio player–or what.
Despite everything, Microsoft has a point here: Anyone who’s considering buying a music player should at least consider whether buying one that supports subscriptions is a smarter move than springing for an iPod. (I suspect I’m in the same camp as a lotta folks, though–I’d switch from buying music to subscribing it in a heartbeat…if you could do so and still own an iPod or iPhone.)
I have my doubts, though, whether Microsoft’s subscription salesmanship will find much more success than that of this old Napster ad, which makes the same point in a radically different fashion, stylewise: