Mossberg: Apple’s iTunes Music Store vs. Napster To Go

“Napster To Go… offers users a completely different model for buying and playing music, a model that Apple can’t match today,” Walter S. Mossberg reports for The Wall street Journal. “With iTunes, you buy new songs for 99 cents each. Once the songs are downloaded to a Windows or Macintosh computer, you own them forever and can do what you like with them, within certain limits. You can store them on multiple PCs, and copy them to an unlimited number of iPod music players. This has worked so well that Apple has sold more than 300 million songs. But there’s a downside to Apple’s system: If you’re a heavy music purchaser, buying thousands of new songs will cost thousands of dollars.”

“Napster To Go also allows you to download songs and to copy them onto a portable player. But Napster To Go doesn’t charge for each song; in fact, Napster doesn’t really sell them to you. Instead, it rents the music, for a monthly subscription fee of $14.95. As long as you pay the monthly fee, you can download as many tracks as you want. So, if you’re inclined to download thousands of tracks, you’re not out thousands of dollars,” Mossberg reports. “Apple has scoffed at the rental/subscription model. But if it takes off, the computer maker may be forced to respond with its own subscription service. I’ve been testing Napster To Go with one of the best compatible players, the iRiver H10. The Napster software used to access the service isn’t as well designed, or as simple to use, as iTunes; and none of the compatible players is as good as an iPod.”

“There is one huge downside to the Napster approach. If you stop paying your monthly fee, the music dies… [And] Napster can be far more confusing to use than iTunes. Not all songs can be rented. Some can only be purchased. Others can only be rented, and not purchased,” Mossberg reports. “The Napster software is also clumsier than iTunes. You can’t see the status of downloads or of song transfers to a portable player without switching to a separate window. Searching for music, and creating playlists, is more awkward than in iTunes.”

“Also, in my tests of Napster To Go on three different PCs, I ran into repeated problems transferring rented songs to the iRiver player. Several times the transfer process choked, and I had to quit and start over. In one case, I received a mystifying error message that read: ‘I/O operation has been aborted because of either a thread exit or an application request.’ I have never had such problems with iTunes,” Mossberg reports. “Still, Napster To Go offers a real alternative to Apple’s offering. It will be interesting to see how the market responds.”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: So, if the subscription model takes off, Apple could add the subscription option to iTunes Music Store, which would be cross-platform, working on Macs and Windows PCs and also iPods – unlike Napster To Go. That would leave Napster up the iRiver without a paddle.

34 Comments

  1. I keep on thinking, one of reason Napster is taking off right now is most of them figure they can sign-up for a month (or may be they have to sign-up for a year) download as many songs as they can, strip off the WMA protection, burn them to CD, import them into iTune and download them to iPod. I assume these people did same, when Real offered a song for $0.49.

  2. Looky, looky. Ol’ Walter’s bringing the street cred for the Napster service. Come onnnn, Wally. What’s de deal? You know Naptime is a piece of junk, I know you do! I mean really, did the Beav talk you into writing this thing? No, I keed. But seriously, I love how he points out that Naptime is a confusing mess. Ye-he-hesss. Kind of like the time I was partying with Prince and I couldn’t tell if his homies were male or female. You know how it is. Confusing. No really, Wally — I think MDN has nailed it, which is something I’m actually known for: Apple adds a subscription option and it’s lights out for Nappytown. Just in time for me to POOP ON THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. If Apple starts a subscription service AND still keeps the regular iTMS sales model, how will I know which songs I’ve rented and which ones I own? How will I know which songs I’ll have forever vs. which one I will lose once I stop paying the monthly fee. Seems like there is potential for a lot of confusion if Apple feels the need to bow to Napster’s competition.

  4. Sorry but I don’t rent music. You rent TV channels but buy DVD’s. Of course when you watch TV you don’t go anywhere, and if you can’t afford TV bills you dont get any. But you can still watch your DVD’s that you bought.

    Frankly Subscribtion will never go away, they may even turn a minor profit. But it will come no where near as profitable as iTunes.

  5. I agree, the majority of new Napster users are getting free music and will be dropping the service in a month or two. The software is so clumsy that it is actually easier to use a P2P network. Besides, the selection is better on a P2P network.

    To actually use Napster you have to factor in the purchase of a new MP3 player as well as the monthly fee. Anyone who already owns a player and has a significant music collection is not going to save anything by joining up. That means Napster’s target segment of the population has to be kids in their early teens. If that is the case, Napster will have to survive 3 to 4 years before turning a profit. Good luck with that.

  6. So they have songs or albums that you can’t rent either besides one’s you can. But he forgot to mention that if you want to put an album or songs on CD you also have to buy them in addition to paying your $15 a month rent fee.
    You may save thousands in the begining but after paying rent month after month, and year after year you lose your savings. And if you quit renting you lose everything that you got. So where is the savings? Can I use this service on a Mac, NO! At least when I buy my music from iTunes it is mine forever. It will not magically disappear ever. My investment is safe with me. With Napster your out of luck.

  7. Hmmmm, that review didn’t make me want to try out Napster at all. But then, I am biased.

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  8. Ya know, Napster could actually _lose_ money on their rental service. To whit: you pay $15 for a month’s rental. You download 3,000 songs or so. Napster pays around $.05 per song downloaded, which comes to about $150.

    Now Napster assumes you’ll keep paying the $15 monthly fee for years (and eventually tire of downloading tons of songs). However, with DRM stripping software, you can cancel your subscription after just one month, leaving Napster holding a negative $135 balance for you.

    I don’t know about you, but I’d shy away from a business with a loss-leader model like this….

  9. Well technically….
    You aren’t really buying the music, you are purchasing a license to use the music. You do however own that license forever. Which is close enuf.

  10. The unlimited download will turn out to be a disaster for Napster. Membership will go up quickly and then down very fast. But how about iTunes/Apple offering something in between, like a limited number of songs for one price that expire after a term, say 100 songs for 6 months for 25 buscks.

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