The Napster proposition

Napster subscribers can listen to as many tracks as they wish which are contained within the catalogue of over 1 million tracks (the service is sometimes described as 'all you can eat' rather than 'a la carte'). Napster users can listen to tracks on any compatible device that includes Windows Digital Rights Management software, which includes MP3 players, computers, PDAs and mobile phones.

Duea describes Napster as an 'experience' rather than a retailer. He says this because of features available such as:

• Napster recommendations;

• Napster radio based around songs by particular artists;

• Napster radio playlists based on the songs you have downloaded;

• swapping playlists and recommendations with other users.

iTunes and Napster are probably the two highest profile services, but they have a quite different model of operating. There are no subscribers to iTunes, where users purchase songs either on a per-track basis or in the form of albums. By mid-2005, over half a billion tracks had been purchased on Napster. Some feel that iTunes locks people into purchasing Apple hardware; as one would expect, Duea of Napster says that Steve Jobs of Apple 'has tricked people into buying a hardware trap'.

But Napster's subscription model has also been criticised since it is service where subscribers do not 'own' the music unless they purchase it at additional cost, for example to burn it to CD. The music is theirs to play either on a PC or on a portable player, but for only as long as they continue to subscribe to Napster. So it could be argued that Napster achieves lock-in in another form and requires a different approach to music ownership than some of its competitors.

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