Napster and iTunes

november 17, 2003

So I am here in Arkansas on a business trip and bored to death. After trying out Apple's iTunes and trying out their music buying facilities, I decided to try out the newly released Napster to see how it is. As you might have heard, the new Napster (2.0) is just a new name for the old pressplay (a joint venture that included Sony). A smart move on the part of Roxio who picked up both pressplay and the Napster name. By renaming pressplay to Napster, they have instantly put a brandname recognition on a bad original launch of a music service. They are smartly trying to erase pressplay from our minds and put the word Napster, which is synonymous with downloadable music, into our heads. It worked for me, at least to get me to try out the service. Napster 2.0 is like the retarded step-brother of iTunes Music Store. I am not sure what the designers were thinking, but one thing is clear: They were trying to rip off the iTunes interface for Napster 2.0. The problem is that they did not even get close. The Napster 2.0 interface is clunky and borderling unusable. The icons ("Buy Music") may look the same, but the functionality is not there. The confusing part about the new Napster is the "Premium" service. Huh? What's that? The FAQ says that it allows for downloads, which I thought was what I got when I bought music, but it is unclear to that. For $10/mo you can get "downloads" and streaming. The streaming is at 96kbps. Yes, iTunes does not do streaming, but another music seller, [url=http://www.musicmatch.com]MusicMatch[/url] does streaming at 128kbps and does it for half the price of Napster. The convoluted "active subscriber" and "premium" member policy is not going to help Napster in the future. They should go for something like iTunes which is simply: You come here, you buy music, you listen to music. Apple has already come out to say that they are not looking to make money selling music -- they don't make much with those 99 cent sales since all the money goes back to the RIAA. But, they have clearly stated that the money that they are looking to make is with selling the [url=http://www.apple.com/ipod]iPod[/url] which integrates tightly with the iTunes Music Store. Steve Jobs has already started to question music sellers like Napster, MusicMatch, and [url=http://www.buymusic.com]BuyMusic[/url]. How realistically are these companies going to make money at selling music? We already know that the music selling is not a profit center and these companies do not have their own line of music players that go with their stores. Is there going to be a fallout? Napster has the silly looking Samsung Napster player, but they do not make the hardware, nor is the player anywhere as close to being cool (read as: marketable) as the iPod. There are going to be even more digital music stores coming online soon (one big one will be [url=http://www.amazon.com]Amazon[/url]). I wonder what is going to be the outcome of all these stores coming online. Will iTunes be the winner?