updated 06:25 am EDT, Tue May 20, 2008
Napster MP3 Store
Napster today launched what it says is the world's largest MP3-based music store. Effectively turning away from its reliance on protected Windows Media files, the company is offering about 6 million unguarded MP3 songs through a web-based store accessible from any computer and playable through virtually any device -- including the iPhone and iPod, Napster is keen to note. Users with iTunes can auto-sync their Napster downloads to the jukebox software. Prices for tracks remain unchanged at 99 cents each, with most full albums selling for $10.
The company plans to continue its existing protected services, including its unlimited-access subscription service and its Napster Mobile downloads for cellphones.
The move gives Napster an immediate edge over Amazon MP3, which at last count is second place behind iTunes in terms of absolute rankings but also offers a smaller unprotected catalog than Napster, at 4.5 million songs. Amazon has relied in part on its pricing to compete and sells some tracks for 89 cents, with a number of albums costing $8 or less.
Additionally, the effort suggests increased attempts to pressure Apple into accepting music licensing terms more favorable to labels. Despite being one of the first stores to offer protection-free music downloads from major labels with an EMI deal, iTunes has frequently been passed over for further deals in favor of competing shops, including Amazon, Wal-Mart, and now Napster. Universal Music Group and other labels are believed to be punishing Apple for refusing to move on pricing by giving its competitors a greater advantage in the marketplace.
In its most recent claims, iTunes has had just 3 million songs in its unprotected iTunes Plus library.