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More than two years after shutting down, Napster is back.
A preview of a revised version of the file-sharing network that paved the way for scores of other digital music services, including the latest wave of peer-to-peer networks, was unveiled Thursday (October 9)
at a New York press conference. A full-scale launch is slated for October 29.
Like its competitors, notably iTunes, BuyMusic, MusicNet and Rhapsody, Napster 2.0 (www.napster.com) offers digital, burnable downloads of over a half million songs for 99 cents each, while complete albums cost $9.95. For a $9.95 monthly fee, PC users can stream and download an unlimited amount of songs and gain access to 40 online radio stations, message boards and other people's music collections, among other features.
In keeping with the original Napster's MO — free — it's the pro-bono accoutrements that separate Napster from its peers. Thirty-second samples of all the songs in the catalog are offered, as well as streaming music videos, recommendations and access to 40 years worth of Billboard albums charts — ideal for creating mixtapes for birthdays and other date-oriented occasions.
"With Napster 2.0, we knew that we had to go beyond what the original Napster delivered in terms of needs, comprehensiveness [and] ubiquity of use, giving the users an interface that was designed with them in mind," President and COO Mike Bebel said. "We got their feedback from the very beginning. We spent a lot of time talking to music fans that were using all the online products that were available [and] understanding what they were looking for, incorporating those features and functions that they were most interested in."
Prospective users can pre-register for the service now and receive five free downloads when the site actually launches.
The road to Napster's return was long, winding and often bumpy. After it voluntarily shuttered in July 2001, unable to comply with a court's filtering order (see "Judge: Napster Must Stay Down Until Filters Are Perfected"), its remaining assets were scooped up by Bertelsmann, the parent company of RCA Records. Months later, Bertelsmann was sued by two other label conglomerates, EMI, home to Virgin and Capitol, and Universal Music Group, which owns Interscope, Geffen and Island Def Jam, among others.
In May 2002, Napster founder Shawn Fanning resigned before Napster's board of directors, only to come back a few days later (see "Shawn Fanning Returns As Napster Is Sold For $8 Million"). The company then filed for bankruptcy. Along came digital music company Roxio, which had already purchased the PressPlay service from the Universal Music Group and Sony Music, to pick up Napster's pieces. So Napster 2.0 is essentially a ramped-up version of PressPlay — with a name nearly synonymous with online music.
"When you think about online music, you definitely think about Napster," Bebel said. "Even though it's been out of business for two years, you can't read an article about online music without saying the name Napster. Like 'Kleenex' and 'Band-Aid,' it stands for online music."
Previous PressPlay subscriptions have been rolled over to Napster 2.0, and Fanning continues to work with the company on a consulting basis.
Coinciding with the Napster 2.0 service are a portable digital music player, acquired through a partnership with electronic company Samsung, and a wireless home entertainment system that works with TVs and allows users to download, play and burn music from the comfort of their living rooms. Music stored on the portable player, due in Best Buy stores on October 19 and elsewhere soon after, can be played on any car or home stereo, as well as the Napster home entertainment system, via an FM radio signal. A release for the wireless entertainment center, a joint venture with Microsoft and Gateway, has yet to be set.
"So between what we've done on the PC and what we're doing in the living room with the portable device, what Napster 2.0 is really about is the ubiquity of enjoying your music and having the ability to hear it wherever you are, whenever you want, fully on demand."
Still in its infancy, the newly tooled Napster may have already encountered its first roadblock. Wired.com reports that because of how they're encoded, songs downloaded from Napster do not play on Apple's popular iPod player.
A party to celebrate the launch of Napster 2.0 is scheduled for October 29 at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. Ludacris, Dashboard Confessional and Interpol are expected to perform.