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Napster Reaches for Bottomfeeder Status, Cuts Price to $5/Month

Napster announced Monday that it would relaunch itself as a $5 per month subscription service, a price that includes five DRM-free MP3 downloads per month, which the company is promoting as being playable on your iPod. The relaunching comes under the auspices of the company's new owner, Best Buy, and represents a substantial price drop from the $12.99 per month Napster used to charge.

"Your $5 monthly subscription gives you the run of the store," the company said in its announcement. "If we have it, you can play it, on any connected computer, anytime you want. You also get 5 MP3 credits in your account each month to use to download your favorite songs."

Customers can purchase additional tunes if they so choose, but the $5 per month includes unlimited streaming of Napster's full catalog.

Napster first relaunched as a paid subscription service after Roxio bought the brand name in 2002 for US$5.3 million. In September of 2008, the firm was bought by Best Buy for $121 million.

Napster as a subscription service was first hailed as the future of music, as label executives and accountants alike hyped how much customers wanted to subscribe to streaming services rather than buying individual songs or albums.

Actual consumers failed to understand this, however, and neither Napster nor other such services such as Real's Rhapsody subscription service found much traction in the market place, allowing Apple to gain command of the online music download business with iTunes.

Today's relaunch, however, could find more appeal for a larger number of customers, as the streaming service is effectively free when compared to the cost buying five songs at iTunes at $.99 each.

Napster's downloadable software remains Windows-only, but Mac users can access the service through Firefox.

8 comments from the community.

You can post your own below.

James said:

I am literally in awe of their inability to grasp the fact that it is the subscription model that is the problem. Five downloads per month? Ha! Don’t make me laugh. They should really just dissolve Napster and put it out of its misery. It’s cool cred was history a decade ago. There’s actually a really good semi-related article by billy Bragg over at The Guardian that’s worth checking out:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/may/18/billy-bragg-copyright-music-internet

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Tiger said:

By Reaches I hope you mean reaches up.

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macslut said:

I was wondering if Best Buy was actually ever going to do something with Napster…apparently this is it.

Fail.

I can’t imagine paying even $5 a month for a *streaming service*.  The full Napster subscription service is still $14.95 and won’t work on the top selling MP3 players, iPhone, Zune and many other popular devices.

Oh, and that $5 a month for *streaming* music?  That’s a promotional special.

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xmattingly said:

I wouldn’t doubt it if Napster is still giving the record companies a premium percentage of song sales (or “keepsies”, or whatever…), the same steep percentage that Apple forks over for song sales. That being the case, they must barely, BARELY be making any money at all off that monthly plan. Napster would seem to be on life support now.

On another note, I haven’t heard what the bit rate of the songs you get to keep will be, but DRM-free is a nice touch.

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JulesLt said:

The problem is that it’s almost pointless chasing the bottom end of the market, when there are so many ways they can avoid paying at all - i.e. anyone whose main motivation is paying the lowest price will go with free.

It’s pretty much like the argument with Apple and dirt-cheap laptops - sometimes it’s just not worth chasing the very low margin end of the market.

emusic, on the other hand, succeeds with a subscription model, because it caters towards people who have, historically, always bought a lot of music. (It’s also subscribe-to-buy rather than ‘all-you-can-listen-to but not own’).

As for Bragg’s piece, the problem is that it’s as waffly as everyone else as to how the digital age can be ‘monetised’ - people might pay €12 for The Pirate Bay but that’s for movies and software too.

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Dennis said:

So let me get this straight. None of you commenters buy 5 songs a month? These songs are mp3s, so will play on your iPod, plus you get unlimited streaming for essentially nothing.

Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

And I don’t get the “bottomfeeder” reference. Is there some way that this music is of lower quality than anywhere else? Just buying less music than other people does not make one a bottomfeeder.

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xmattingly said:

@ Dennis:

Any given consumer may as well subscribe to the service by default. You get your five songs, PLUS (free) streaming. But the “bottomfeeder status” name of the article is entirely appropriate, since as I mentioned before, Napster will barely be able to scrape out a profit (if they even can), and at best all this will do is syphon away some sales from other music outlets such as iTunes. But only $5 worth of sales a month. Any sales in excess of that hinges very heavily on the hopes that their customers will default to Napster for additional music purchases, and success of that will depend on content, quality, and ease of use. So unless there is massive adoption of their subscription plan - which I highly doubt, the $5 a month plan is not going to make a very big dent.

The Napster name brand has been on a very interesting journey over the past several years; with this latest move it seems as though it’s about to come to a conclusion.

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gslusher said:

Something to consider, from the SMALL print at the bottom of Napster’s home page:

“Please note: MP3 credits that are included with a subscription membership do not roll over to the next billing period—you must use them during the plan period. The $5 dollar monthly subscription is a special offer—get it while you can.”

So, it’s not really a “relaunch,” but a limited-time promotion, with strings attached.

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