New Napster Launches

By Robert Menta 01/10/02

Is that some stirring we see from the Napster camp? Can it actually be still alive? With all the additional money that Bertelsmann has been pumping into it I guess I shouldn't be surprised, yet the ongoing Napster trial has managed to suck much of the hope out of it ever becoming a viable service again.

Not that they aren't going to give it a try. Napster today launched the beta of its new service offering a peek at what it is going to look like. The public beta test is limited to just 20,000 members and will provide access to just 110,000 independent-label songs

According to the FAQ, the service is going to remain a file trade service as opposed to a straight download service as presently offered by the record industry through PressPlay and MusicNet. Furthermore, Napster will still allow the trading of straight MP3 files along with the proprietary .NAP that the company hopes will control file trading.

Napster Preview

Only MP3 files whose titles are approved for delivery through the Napster's central server will get through, allowing unsigned bands or those open to the free trade of their music to let their fans continue to trade their tunes. These MP3 files can be freely burned to CDs or played on MP3 portables, acts discouraged by PressPlay and MusicNet. Music compressed into the NAP files won't have such freedom.

From the modest information that Napster has released so far we can derive that the company is serious about avoiding as many of the pitfalls PressPlay and MusicNet are experiencing and looking to seriously compete with the free Napster clones.Pricing will ultimately determine what serious means, but the ease and convenience of service will be just as important. Napster has recently withdrawn as a member of MusicNet, choosing to continue with its present technology instead and giving a hint about how that company feels about MusicNet's distribution model.

If MusicNet and PressPlay continue to struggle at building a paying audience, Napster becomes very important to the industry again. Still, the service has lost so much of its audience to the Napster clones it's hard to say if it will ever become a viable entity again. In our 2001 winners and losers list, we said Napster has become irrelevant. The company certainly hopes to prove us wrong and frankly so do we, but with a service that serves the consumer not the whims and fears of an industry looking to preserve the status quo.

That desire by the major labels to preserve the status quo comes through in part of Napster's answer to its own FAQ Will it be easier to search for songs?

"...However, the quantity of music available at launch will depend largely on the licenses the major labels grant us -- which could make it difficult at times to find what you're looking for..."

There is one bit of promising news to rise above the status quo and that is a tip jar that offers direct payment to the artists. As the company says on its site "Napster will offer artists and labels tools to register as rights holders and get paid for sharing their music on Napster. Artists and other rights holders can set rules for how their music files are used, check their account status online, and receive quarterly statements. "

Below is the complete FAQ for Napster's new service. You can see all the screen shots of the revived Napster here.

New Napster FAQ

When are you going to launch the new Napster?
Early 2002. It has taken us longer than we'd hoped, but most of our new technology is complete and being tested. The biggest hurdle left is getting licenses for the music that you want to share. We're making great strides in this area. Thanks for your patience. Keep an eye on our homepage for updates.

Is there going to be a charge to join the new Napster? How much will it cost?
There will be a small monthly fee to join Napster. As a member, you'll get to share your music with the Napster community, organize and play your music, use Napster's community features, and download a certain number of tracks per month. We understand that you're itching to know exactly how much membership will cost -- but we haven't yet settled on a price. We can tell you that it will depend on the agreements we reach with the copyright holders who license their music for sharing by the Napster community. We'll let you know the price when we launch the new Napster in early 2002.

What payment methods will be accepted?
You'll need a credit card to pay for Napster membership at launch. We'll introduce several other payment methods shortly after launch.

Will it be easier to search for songs?
Napster's new design will build on the incredible ease of use for which we've always been known, so searching for the songs you want will still be a snap. However, the quantity of music available at launch will depend largely on the licenses the major labels grant us -- which could make it difficult at times to find what you're looking for. We expect to have a ton of choices for you when we launch, and we'll continue to add music as we move forward.

How is Napster going to stay legal? Will you filter out certain songs, like before?
All the music available through Napster will be legally licensed for sharing in the Napster community. When you make music available for sharing, our system will check to make sure it's licensed to Napster. We're busy getting licenses to music from copyright holders ranging from major to independent labels, so there'll be a lot of great music when we launch -- and we'll continue adding to that body of music.

What kinds of music will be available?
All kinds. We understand that convenient access to a wide range of content is one of the biggest reasons people look to Napster, and we're doing everything we can to deliver on that. Our primary focus now is getting licenses for music -- an effort that will affect our launch date and the cost of the service. With over 5,000 indie labels providing music to date and more on the way, we're making huge strides in this area. We're now aiming to launch the new membership service early in 2002.

Why should I pay when I can get it for free somewhere else?
You mean aside from the fact that Napster is the coolest? Seriously, we know that there will always be a lot of alternatives. Ultimately, the choice will be yours, but we feel that file sharing communities that pay copyright holders and provide simple, useful tools to help you do what you want with your digital music collection are going to prevail. We feel strongly that the value you receive from Napster will make the fee seem insignificant.

Will I be able to use my old user name with the new Napster?
No. We've decided to start over and give everyone a shot at getting the user name they've always dreamed of having. If there's a particular user name you'd like to have, sign up early to get it. To sign up as Napster member, you'll need to download the new version of the Napster software and follow a simple registration process.

Will I be able to play the music I get through Napster on my portable player?
Yes and no. Some music will be shared in MP3 format, and you'll have all the freedom with those files that you do with any MP3s. In order to give artists and copyright holders choices about how their music is shared, we've created a new secure file format that defines how the file can be used. You won't be able to play those files -- called NAP files -- on your portable player at the launch of the new service. Our goal is to obtain licenses that allow you to play that music on your portable player; we'll get there as soon as possible.

Without the control offered by the NAP format, some artists and rights holders wouldn't share their music -- so the NAP format means that more music will be available on Napster. Still, we know you'd rather have more freedom with all your music files, and we're exploring ways to bring that to you.


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MP3 2001 in Review: The Winners
MP3 2001 in Review: The Losers
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