Napster Mulls Putting Itself on The Block

My, how the world turns. Former music-sharing badboy cum legitimate music download service Napster announced today that it has retained the services of UBS Investment Bank. The reason: to assist the board and company management in evaluating “recent third party interest” in acquiring the company and/or establishing strategic partnerships.

“Napster is in a strong position to continue aggressively building our business as an independent company and we are pleased to also have the opportunity to thoughtfully examine potential combinations that may further enhance Napster’s unique strategic and brand position in the center of digital media,” said Chris Gorog, Napster Chairman and CEO in a statement. “Our goal is to enhance shareholder value which could potentially lead to a new strategic partnership or the sale of the company but in any event our primary focus will remain on growing Napster.”

The company emphasized there are no timetables for its evaluation of possible offers, and it is not guaranteeing that the evaluation process will result in any transaction at all: Napster could well continue to go it alone. According to Napster CFO Nand Gangwani, the company has about $97 million in the bank as of the end of its first fiscal quarter and boasts annual revenues over $100 million. Long languishing on the subscriber front, the company now says its service have more than half a million subscribers (down from over 600,000 in the prior quarter), but is seeing significant growth in its mobile business. The company will be launching service shortly in Japan. However, its financial numbers and subscriber base make the former shooting star of the digital music scene distinctly toward the back of the pack of music services; of course, everyone is at the back of the pack compared to the success of Apple’s iTunes, and everyone’s also holding their breath to see what happens with Microsoft’s iPod-challenging Zune.

Potential suitors for Napster could include cable companies and mobile phone operators seeking at add or enhance digital music offerings via data services.

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