Napster makes a comeback

30 Oct 2003

Napster, the notorious music file-swapping software has today returned to the internet, albeit this time it is legal and now charges money for the songs that music lovers can download.

The new-format Napster – now run by tech firm Roxio rather than by bored teenagers – allows internet users to download its software for free and provides access to a massive library of songs that non-subscribers can download for US$1. Subscribers to the service are offered unlimited listening for US$9 a month. This new Napster was originally a service known as Pressplay, which was acquired by Roxio earlier this year and later renamed.

Napster was one of the original peer-to-peer file-swapping services and reached the zenith of notoriety in the late Nineties. The popularity of downloading music free of charge raised the ire of the recording industry, which was reeling from declining CD sales and had completely underestimated the internet as a medium for exchanging music.

While some of the original Napster’s peer-to-peer contemporaries, including Morpheus and Kazaa, are still fighting the free music fight, the online music market is now being occupied by legal, paid-for services. How a Napster that is charging for songs will fare is anyone’s guess.

Earlier this year Apple launched its iTunes music store in North America and saw close to five million tracks downloaded within the first eight weeks. More than 46pc of the songs on the site were purchased as albums and more than 80pc of the 200,000 songs available on the store have been purchased at least once. Apple has yet to launch a European iTunes store, citing unresolved European copyright and digital rights management issues.

Microsoft has also entered the online music market and in September launched an iTunes-style music service for Europe, allowing music lovers to buy and download singles and albums through its Windows Media Player technology.

Analysts argue that the reception that Napster will receive will indicate how paid-for music services will fare in the long term. The new-look Napster retains some of the look and feel of the original Napster service, but contains new features such as live chat and CD-quality streaming music.

By John Kennedy