I swear that Napster is as close as it gets to a cat with 9-lives. In 1999 it started off as a file sharing service that exploded with popularity. People could share and download songs freely, but the service was doomed to failure since it used central servers to connect one user to another. That made it easy for the RIAA to shut it down, which is exactly what happened in 2001. Napster then turned to a subscription-based model for music in hopes of recovering some of the $36 million they had to pay in the settlement.
They’ve been alive ever since, but not doing all that well. What they’re hoping to do today is make it easy for people to purchase DRM-free music that can be played on nearly any music player, including the iPod and iPhone. Their library consists of over 6 million songs, and for $0.99 per song (or $9.95 per album) you’ll get an MP3 that’s likely encoded at 256Kbps, and includes high-resolution album art.
Napster also has a web-based store available, which means that users on any operating system can sign-up and purchase songs with ease. You can also browse their collection of music without needing to create an account first, which is nice. The question is whether they’ll be able to compete with with the other big names offering DRM-free music, such as Amazon. Is this finally going be the formula that provides financial success for Napster?
In case you’re wondering Napster is still offering the “unlimited” music plans, but the songs you get from those are in a WMA format that is still plagued with DRM. Bummer!