Spotify Is What We Wanted Napster to Be, Sean Parker Says

7:26 PM PST 12/01/2011 by David Downs, Billboard, THR staff
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Sean Parker

Napster officially closed down on Nov. 30, marking an end to the file-sharing brand.

Digital music's most disruptive brand, Napster, closed down on Nov. 30, swallowed up by nine-year-old, music subscription service Rhapsody. It marks a symbolic end to the notorious file-sharing brand, which tried but failed to turn into a legitimate music subscription service.

Seattle-based Rhapsody acquired Napster from retailer Best Buy for an undisclosed amount with the transaction closing Wednesday, Nov. 30, said Rhapsody spokesperson Jaimee Steele.

"We are currently migrating Napster subscribers over to Rhapsody. It's all under way as planned," Steele said.

As Napster was shutting down, Spotify board member Sean Parker told CNN on Thursday that his latest venture Spotify is "realizing the original dream that Sean Fanning and I set out to do in 1999 with Napster."

He added: "Spotify is opening up, it's becoming a platform so that music is truly becoming ubiquitous."

When asked whether that was what Napster was originally intended to be, Parker said that they "were never really given a chance to prove it because we were the ... event that shifted the thinking of the music industry. It's taken a decade to shift that thinking and ultimately to come up with a model that works. Spotify is the best chance we have."

As of Thursday, subscribers to Napster.com's $8-$10 digital music plans and those seeking a free trial are now routed to Rhapsody's sign-in page, where new users can enjoy a free 14-day trial of Rhapsody, which provides licensed access to 13 million songs. Napster and Rhapsody subscriptions are incompatible, and both have similar catalogs but they are not exactly the same. Rhapsody is offering Napster subscribers a 7-day free trial beginning Dec. 1 as well as 50 percent off Rhapsody Premier for 3 months.

Napster's url will permanently redirect to Rhapsody, said Steele, and Napster's brand will be moth-balled, but could be used again in the future.

Rhapsody charges $9.99 per month for music database access on desktop and mobile devices. The company is attempting to beef up its ranks of subscribers, intellectual property, and is adding developers for both Android and iOS systems as it competes with new big kid on the block Spotify from Sweden.

Rhapsody -- America's leading digital music service, with 800,000 subscribers -- announced the purchase of Napster and its assets from Best Buy on October 3.

"This deal will further extend Rhapsody's lead over our competitors in the growing on-demand music market," stated Jon Irwin, president of Rhapsody in an October 3 press release. "There's substantial value in bringing Napster's subscribers and robust IP portfolio to Rhapsody as we execute on our strategy to expand our business via direct acquisition of members and distribution deals."

"This is a 'go big or go home' business, so our focus is on sustainably growing the company," said Irwin.

Rhapsody, as a legitimate music streaming service, is a poetic resting place for the former file-sharing site once considered the scourge of the music industry. Though when Sean Fanning started Napster with Parker in 1999 it was heralded by some as the crystallization of a new vision for the future of music. And Parker told Billboard this pat September that, "We never really wanted to create a service to destroy the record business or hurt artists in any way. The goal was really to create a more frictionless system."

Metallica became notorious for suing Napster for rampant copyright infringement in 2000; and others like Dr. Dre followed. Usage reportedly peaked at 26.4 million users in February of 2001.

"We really believed we would succeed in striking deals with the record labels," Parker told Billboard.

An RIAA lawsuit shut down the site in July 2001. An acquisition, a bankruptcy, and failed subscription plan later doomed the brand, while file-sharing continued to explode on copycat services, then via the BitTorrent protocol. In September 2008, Best Buy bought the wayward company from Roxio for $121 million.

Steele says she remembers Napster's debut: She was managing a recent college graduate who took down her office's ethernet with Napster downloads. The graduate taught the staff how to use the service, and Steele made a killer holiday mixtape that year.

"Just that first glimpse of that idea of having access to any type of song, it was just sort of magical, where you have the world at your fingertips. It was powerful. It was addicting. I did download a lot of stuff," she said.

Now, an entire crop of digital music services replicate that experience for more and more mainstream music listeners -- but in a legal way.

"We call it the Rhapsody moment. I'm vacationing with my family that's not very music savvy and introducing them to it and seeing them light up. Even my grandma who's 85 years old says ,'Wow, I can listen to any Frank Sinatra? This is great'."

Steele said Rhapsody is working on new apps that'll take better advantage of tablet computers, and will continue its push into more devices as it battles for supremacy with Spotify. The company celebrates its 10-year anniversary Dec. 3.

"I think there's good times ahead," Steele said.

Watch Parker's interview with CNN below:

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