Napster Halts Service

By Richard Menta - 7/02/01

Napster shut down its file trade service Monday in a move seen as the next step towards its migration to a pay service. The company did not say when it would come back online, but it did stress that the action was only temporary. On the company's website visitors were greeted with this note:


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File transfers have been temporarily suspended while Napster upgrades the databases that support our new file identification technology. Keep checking this space for updates. Thanks for your support!

This action comes shortly after the company disowned all versions of the software except for the most recent, Version 2 Beta 10.3, which had been endowed with special fingerprint technology used to identify and filter out songs. Users upgrading to the new version found it to be an exercise in futility as even the most obscure works were filtered. This made the software virtually useless, frustrating users and sending more of them searching for Napster alternatives.

Beta 10.3's failure may have helped prompt the company to shut everything down until it can work out the kinks. The problem is that shutting down further serves the desires of the Napster clones who over the past few months have siphoned millions of former users to their free and unencumbered services.

Some of these services, like Music City's Morpheus, do a very credible job of recreating the original Napster experience right down to the look of the interface itself. They have grown exponentially as they provide the customer-friendly atmosphere and ease of use that Napster no longer offers.

The final proof, Napster's online audience has dropped the last few days to the 130,000 to 150,000 range, less than Morpheus and the various Gnutella clients draw.

Napster still has the name, though, and the music industry, which now owns controlling interest in the company through Bertelsmann AG hopes to use that branding to compel users join their upcoming MusicNet service. Napster is to be rolled into MusicNet and users will be required to first join that service before they will be allowed to subscribe to the new Pay Napster.

The problem is that requirement alone makes Napster even less customer-friendly than it presently is. Add to that the reality that Napster's competition offer far more compelling services to the Net Music audience and do it for free and it is easy to see why the company may have needed to retreat and rethink their position.

Napster says the shutdown is to fix database problems and that's probably true. But, there are bigger conceptual and strategic issues that lay ahead for the company that need addressing now. This shutdown could last more than a few days.

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