New pay version of Napster service debuts

Nearly a year after software maker Roxio Inc. scooped up the Napster brand from the ashes of the pioneer file-swapping service, a revamped online music store bearing the familiar brand name wasdebuting Thursday in limited release.

The company shelved its former online music service, pressplay, and was beginning to move subscribers to a beta, or working version, of Napster 2.0.

The service will launch with more than a half-million songs from all the major music labels and offer both individual song and album downloads as well as a subscription service. Pressplay, which went off-line Tuesday, only offered access to songs for a monthly fee.

Napster 2.0 users can expect prices to be in line with what other services charge, which is about $1 per song and about $10 for full albums or monthly subscription.

Like other music download retail sites, Napster 2.0 will incorporate some usage restrictions, but officials at Santa Clara, Calif.-based Roxio downplayed their effect.

“Ninety-nine percent or more of our Napster users will never bump their heads against any usage rules,” Chris Gorog, Roxio’s chairman and chief executive, told The Associated Press Wednesday.

“They’re going to be in an environment where everything costs the same, where every song that they select they can burn to a CD or offload to their device, they can do it multiple times and they won’t even know what the usage rules are because they are so flexible.”

The company planned to disclose further details Thursday during an official launch.

The service will be available to the general public within a month, according to sources familiar with the plans.

Roxio is betting the Napster brand will help set its service apart from a bevy of other digital music retailers that have launched since Apple Computer Inc. introduced its iTunes Music Store in April.

Last week, MusicMatch Inc. launched a Web site that sells song and album downloads and boasts record label licensing agreements that offered the fewest copying restrictions yet outside of iTunes.

Others, including Buy.com’s BuyMusic.com, RealNetworks’ Rhapsody, MusicNow and MusicNet, are also vying for a piece of the market.

The new Napster will also have to contend with iTunes, which has sold more than 10 million songs and is expected to be available on the Windows platform by year’s end.

“The space has become crowded because there’s a recognition of this is going to be a very substantial business,” Gorog said. “It validates Roxio’s strategy to enter this business.”

The music industry has seen CD sales plummet over the last three years as illegal music file-sharing exploded, beginning with the original Napster, which was forced to shut down in 2001 after a protracted legal battle with recording companies.

Meanwhile, file-sharing over the most popular peer-to-peer networks has declined in recent weeks, coinciding with a lawsuit campaign launched against downloaders by the recording industry.

Traffic on Kazaa’s network, the most popular, dropped 41 percent between the last week of June and mid-September, according to Nielsen NetRatings, which monitors Internet usage.

At the same time, online music sales are expected to grow from 1 percent of the total music market to 12 percent in 2008, generating about $1.5 billion in sales, according to Jupiter Research.

Source: Associated Press

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