Tag Archive: Napster

KitchenerIt could be that finally the promise of digital music subscription is about to be fulfilled. Virgin Media has announced a deal with Universal Music (UMG) that will mean Virgin broadband subscribers will be offered an all-you-can-eat, MP3 music subscription package to sit alongside their broadband package. Virgin has promised UMG that filtering (just how is tbc) and education for subscribers will be in place for launch, which should be later this year.

Virgin could well be beaten to the launch punch by Sky, which is getting very close to having everything in place for its launch (more on that later). Virgin will, of course, need to get everyone on board before launch but with UMG in the bag, a little wheeling and dealing with upfront money for the labels should soon ensure that Virgin has a full house for launch.

With Napster, Spotify, eMusic, 7Digital and more all offering subscriptions and a pretty full set of content (though eMusic only has indies and Sony so far), and that group being joined by the bigger hitters of Sky and Virgin, the key differentials will be pricing, ease of use, selling the subscription story and what streaming services are in place. Ad-funded services such as We7 could face a pretty tough time with ad money evaporating.

Of course, a few big exclusives (perhaps tied into TV and radio as well) would help draw the public’s attention to the offerings but it will be about who offers the best combination of effective marketing and ease of use (including being pan-platform) that will draw the big numbers. iTunes won’t be worried about its dominance of the UK digital music market in ’09 but the New Year could be very interesting indeed as the UK starts to get used to music as a subscription service, especially when bundled with Net access.

ashTwo stories that have caught the eye this week in the music world.

Firstly, Ash’s plan to release a single every two weeks. I was lucky enough to do a live session with the band for AOL Music, and at the time they talked about embracing the potential of digital music and possibly abandoning the whole format of albums and instead release music as and when they felt it was finished. Maybe occasionally grouping the singles together as an ‘album’ but otherwise step out of the usual cycle of album, tour, rest, album, tour etc.

And, fair play to them, that’s exactly pretty much what they’re doing with an A-Z series of track releases, though with a sensible nod to the physical by issuing the singles as vinyl 7-inches as well. I hope other bands follow in these steps. It makes so much sense, and frees the band from the same old same old. I used to love when singles were events in their own right and then the whole thing got swamped by albums, which in turn became pointless and filled to the max 72 minutes just because it was there.

Cracking band Ash, and really top blokes to boot.

The second story is the reinvention (again) of Napster as the business now focuses on a lower rate subscription and streaming model. With more than 7 million tracks available, the $5 a month rate could well be the tipping point for the subscription model – well I’m sure they’re hoping that. However, at £3 a month for all the music you could listen to plus 5 downloads, it all comes down to the marketing and once again trying to crack the method of telling the story of subscriptions to the general public. As long as Napster sticks to saying what it is and not repeating their previous mistakes of comparing themselves to iTunes and trying to make a vague point about the cost of filling an iPod (it was stupid the first time so are Microsoft making the same mistake – oh wait, it’s Microsoft…), then surely with their brand, they can crack it this time?

I’m a big fan of music subscription but I was always pushed away by platform, DRM and price point, with those issues resolved, maybe music subscription’s time has come at last? Could be an interesting battle between the Spotify free+ads and downloads and the Napster sub+downloads models. Once again, the wheel has come full circle but no one’s really nailed it yet…

Bye bye Napster

For $121 million, Best Buy in the US has snapped up Napster, which is considerably less than the money spent on it to cover legal cases, running costs and so on. While talking a good fight Napster has been sinking fast and even opening up to the iPod market has not turned things around yet. Napster follows Wippit as the digital music casualties start to mount, though Wippit just shut up shop after failing to find a buyer.

Subscription is a long sell and no player has yet made that story short and snappy enough to convince consumers in really big numbers. Yahoo has bailed, Wippit gone and there are almost no music subscription successes to be found. Downloads – not a problem.

What’s required is for a company already offering subscriptions for other digital services to tie music into it, really market it and make it easy and open – no DRM, match iTunes pricing (or better it) and ideally integrate social tools such as Last.FM/Pandora etc.


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