Napster dumps Microsoft’s Windows Media format to sell DRM-free MP3s

“Napster Inc said on Monday it would start selling downloads in the MP3 format from the second quarter of this year in the latest blow to copy protection for songs bought online,” Yinka Adegoke reports for Reuters.

“Napster had sold songs protected with Microsoft Corp’s Windows-based digital rights management (DRM) to prevent buyers from illegally making multiple copies or distributing songs to other users,” Adegoke reports.

“MP3 is the most widely available digital audio format and plays on the widest range of devices, including the dominant digital music player, Apple Inc’s iPod,” Adegoke reports.

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Note: Napster will shift its entire download sales catalog to MP3 in the second calendar quarter of 2008. Napster’s Chairman and CEO Chris Gorog said in a statement, “As there is now a critical mass of support for MP3s we are very pleased to announce we will soon offer our customers the user-friendly MP3 file format throughout our product line-up and provide the top-tier content our users expect from Napster. The ubiquity and cross-platform compatibility of MP3s should create a more level playing field for music services and hardware providers and result in greater ease of use and broader adoption of digital music.” Napster will provide further details about its MP3 initiative upon its upcoming availability.

Good move (that’ll probably allow Napster to survive) except for one thing: why do these outfits insist on going backwards in time to the MP3 dinosaur when they have the more efficient and equally-DRM-free AAC available at their fingertips? Why do they stick to an old, outdated, now-surpassed format?

Can’t they take this opportunity, where they’re stripping off the DRM — thanks to Apple’s Steve Jobs — and changing formats to also follow Jobs’ lead by using the successor to MP3, the superior AAC instead? What’s next, flying cars that they insist on fueling with leaded gas from the 1970s?

Using MP3 today is just dumb, shortsighted, and regressive for no good reason. Now is the time for those straggling device makers to finally add AAC capabilities and let’s move forward, instead of clinging to “backwards compatibility” like some PC box assembler still bolting on parallel ports and installing floppy disk drives. At this rate, an iTunes Store selling point is going to be superior file format vs. last century’s MP3. We’d much rather have DRM-free 256kbps AAC vs. 256kbps MP3 and so would our iPods’ and iPhones’ storage capacities and batteries.

AAC advantages over MP3:
• Improved compression provides higher-quality results with smaller file sizes
• Support for multichannel audio, providing up to 48 full frequency channels
• Higher resolution audio, yielding sampling rates up to 96 kHz
• Improved decoding efficiency, requiring less processing power for decode, hence greater battery life

Now, how long can the music cartels get away with offering DRM-free music to every also-ran and their mother while blatantly excluding Apple? Are they demanding variable pricing (read: price hikes) and bundles (read: albums-only with assorted “extras”) from Apple before deigning to remove their locks? Is it legal to exclude the dominant seller of online music simply because you desperately desire to “level the playing field?” Where is the collusion line and when will it be crossed, if it hasn’t been crossed already?

56 Comments

  1. They stick to mp3 because instead of calling it MP4 (implying progress), some dumb ass went with AAC name instead. So the general public understands what mp3 is, and will buy it, but will not touch AAC, even though would purchase same song sold as MP4 in a heartbeat.

  2. These firms probably are choosing .mp3 for marketing reasons. No one understands the poorly-named AAC, which should have been christened .mp4. In fact, most PC users seem to think AAC is a proprietary Apple format rather than the industry-standard technology that was designed to improve upon and replace .mp3.

  3. It’s funny, but didn’t Napster start it’s sordid existence with the trafficking of illegal mp3 downloads? So, NOW almost 10 years later, “there is now a critical mass of support for MP3s”?

    The sound quality of mp3 is like AM radio sound. AAC is the way to go. if they were truly forward thinking, instead of playing catch-up, then supporting even some downloads in Apple Lossless format would be an even better move.

  4. “The labels think they’re going to whip Apple into shape and give them back control of their business”

    But is that legal? If anyone can sell DRM free music, Apple should be able to also. I”m not an attorney or anything, but it seems like there should be laws about forcing one retailer to use copy protection.

  5. Let’s face it, MP3s at 256 kbps are virtually lossless. So are AACs at 256 kbps. The sound fidelity at that rate is impossible for any human to differentiate. In other words, in a blind hearing test of the 2 different formats at 256 kbps, no human could tell them apart. My dog could but he’s into rap, so he doesn’t count.

    The trick is to archive your 256 kbps MP3s and rip a copy of each as an AAC at either 128, 160 or 192 kbps for use as a smaller file on your iPods.

  6. Is it too late for Napster to stick with WMA files?

    Hey Napster, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. WMA is fine. They play on tons of devices including my Ditty, Zoon and Zune and the great thing is I can always rely on Microsoft if I have issues with WMA. All of my music is WMA.

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