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Napster On The Ropes

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Since everyone else is talking about Napster today, I might as well, too. And so, we have some random thoughts on Napster and digital music.

The argument that Napster’s widespread music sharing is hurting CD sales doesn’t seem to hold water. The study that is most often cited showed that music sales were down dramatically in college towns. College students are heavy users of Napster, so Napster must be the cause, right? First of all, The Industry Standard reports that 72% of college Napster users don’t even keep the songs they download. They use Napster as an interactive radio. Download a few songs, listen to them, and move to the next songs. Second, as most of the articles on the college CD sales survey mention, the study didn’t take into account the increase in online CD sales. A decrease in local CD sales doesn’t neccessarily mean a decline in CD sales in general. In fact, album sales were up last year, not down.

The label’s attempts at download services have been pathetic. Each label wants to create a walled garden. They only want you to download their music from their sites. This makes sense until you think about how music brands work. Quick, what label is your favorite musician from? The artists, are the brands, not the labels. If you wanted to buy and download the latest Madonna song, what are the chances you would know to go to the Warner Brothers site?

Of course, most people by now have heard of Napster clones and alternatives. I wrote about Gnutella, for instance last April. There are plenty of ways to download music, even if the recording industry shuts down Napster.

For the vast majority of listeners, downloading music isn’t about piracy. It is about conveinence. It is easier for most people to download a few songs than it is to drive to the local record store and buy a single or entire CD. Consumers have had a taste of cheap, conveinent access to their favorite music. Shutting down the Napster servers won’t keep them from getting their music. The labels will have to find a way to balance the demands of consumers with the profits of the industry.

April 18, 2005 6:42 AM

i felt like being the first one. happy article i thought it was to the point and on topic. way to go.:)

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