Napster Looking for Beta Testers for New Pay Format

By Richard Menta - 5/16/01

Due to be released sometime this summer, Napster's subscription service is ready for testing. The company is now recruiting users to help put the upcoming product through its paces. Beta Testing is expected to begin within the month.

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Napster's conversion to a pay service was announced several months ago, shortly after the product's acquisition from media conglomerate Bertelsmann AG. Besieged by a lawsuit from the music industry the company hopes the conversion to a pay entity will allow it to avoid a court ordered shutdown. To comply so far, Napster has developed a filtering regiment to eliminate popular copyright tunes from its service.

The filtering has improved to where it does a fairly reasonable job in blocking songs, but at a cost. Napster has already lost some 40% of its once 60 million-user base with those numbers expected to plummet once the service begins to charge. The pay service will also only include music under the Bertelsmann sphere. While the company is trying to bring other record labels in, there has been little interest as labels like Universal and Sony are chosing to build their own competing services.

That is why beta testing is all important for them here, not only to see the software functions properly, but to gauge how useful subscribers will find the product with the music of only one label available.

With 35 million people still using the service, Napster has a significant head start over upcoming competitors like the Sony/Universal Duet service. If they can compel even a small fraction of their present user base to continue as paid members, the service would be successful.

But who wants to pay for a stripped down Napster when there are several other options for free that offer the full range of music? This includes Music City's Morpheus, the closest to come to the original Napster experience.

The company hopes to find some of those answers during the testing, which is just as much a market research tool for the company as it is a technical one.

Those wishing to beta test the new product can contact Napster through their general help form. If you feel like a Judas for even thinking about it, remember that Napster's fate was sealed several months ago when Bertelsmann - one of the companies still suing Napster - bought them and brought them into the traditional music industry. The Napster product is now a tool that serves that industry and if they want people to use it they are going to have to give them a reason why.

If it can no longer compel the user, it will disappear.


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