Digital Top Stories

Napster name dropped in US market

By | Published on Friday 2 December 2011


So, much was made yesterday of the demise of Napster, as the one time rogue brand of the music world, for much of its life actually the name of a rather lacklustre subscription music service, disappeared from the US market following its acquisition by rival Rhapsody. Though that Rhapsody bosses shunned the excellent alternative of rebranding their own platform Napsody is surely the bigger story here.

Napster, of course, was the first file-sharing client to go truly global, and therefore the first major enemy of the wider music industry in the internet age. Created by then students Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, Napster v1 was actually pretty short lived, investors quickly bailing on the rapidly growing business once the record industry’s lawyers scored the first of many successes in the US courts against the file-sharing companies.

Despite efforts to fall inline with the court’s demands regarding filtering copyright content, the original Napster went bankrupt, and the brand name was put up for sale. For a time it looked like Napster might become a porn brand, but then tech firm Roxio bought the trademark and set up a legit download service, a subscription-based offer where users could download as many tracks as they liked, but they’d only play while subscription fees were paid.

Although is was essentially an early version of what services like Spotify now offer in the mobile domain, it relied on DRM in an era where DRM was seen as evil by music fans. It also didn’t work on Apple devices, and the iPod was supreme. A niche product as a result, it’s amazing Napster lasted this long, most of its rival subscription-based music services from that era quickly failed, the big exception in the US market being its new owner Rhapsody.

Roxio spun Napster off into its own publicly listed company, then Best Buy bought it, and then in October this year Rhapsody took it over, with plans to combine the two services and user bases to create the undisputed market leader in what is finally becoming a more buoyant market place: the ‘access model’ or subscription-based digital music market.

Yesterday that happened and, in the US, the Napster name ceased to be used. It’s probably not as big a deal as some have suggested in their reports of this development, if it wasn’t for the occasional stories about new ownership many wouldn’t have even realised there still was a music service called Napster (management at the v2 Napster having never managed to capitalise on the rebellious and popular heritage of the brand). And, of course, for the time being at least, the Rhapsody company will seemingly continue to operate a service outside the US, including here in the UK, under the Napster name, Rhapsody having never expanded beyond North America.

But still, a bit of an end of an era I suppose. And possibly proof that it’s very hard to take a brand associated with file-sharing – however many millions of users it may have worldwide – and use it for another kind of music platform. Tell me, has anyone out there ever thought about signing up for the Kazaa streaming package? It exists you know.