Napster to Go launches

Napster to Go launched Thursday, offering subscribers hundreds of thousands of tracks for their portable music devices as long as they keep paying $14.95 a month.

Napster Inc. said it will spend as much as $30 million to market the service, including an ad in this weekend’s Super Bowl. The selling proposition: It would cost $10,000 to fill up an IPod with tracks purchased at 99 cents each, while it costs only $15 a month to stuff a Napster to Go-capable player.

“Subscribers have access to a million tracks any time anywhere, on any number of portable devices,” explained Andrea Devenow, vice president of business development at Napster. As long as they use a device other than the market leader Apple IPod. “Apple has made it clear they are continuing on their own, proprietary way,” she said.

Napster to Go uses Microsoft Corp.’s Janus digital rights management technology, which can signal compatible player devices if a subscriber’s account has lapsed. If it has, the music goes away.

Best Buy and other retailers can be expected to promote the service “in a big way,” Devenow said, through promotion and marketing compatible players from Creative Technology, Dell Inc. and IRiver of South Korea.

Devenow said she is in negotiations with some Internet service providers to bundle music players with high-speed access service plans.

Until now, she said, ISPs have not had offers to encourage customers to trade up to more expensive tiers of high-speed service offering more bandwidth or storage. “Without compelling media applications, higher speed has been something that really doesn’t sell very well,” Devenow said.

“We’re already talking with a number of ISPs, and I think our problem will be supporting all of them,” she explained. Napster is likely to underwrite the cost of players. “We’re going to bundle in everything somebody needs to use the service.”

Napster’s mobile offering is the first to market. Next is likely to be from CDigix, a music company catering to college campuses. It announced this week Ctrax2Go, which will allow downloading unlimited music to MP3 players for a monthly fee.

RealNetworks is also expected to join the business, even if it does mean adopting Microsoft’s rights technology. “Every one of the major music services, other than Apple’s iTunes, has indicated they will (do this),” Rob Enderle of Enderle Group, told the Chicago Tribune.

MP3tunes is coming

Michael Robertson, the founder and former chief executive officer of, will announce next week that he is starting a new digital music company called MP3tunes. He said his firm will sell tracks in the MP3 format, without anti-piracy protection. Most will be from independent labels or unsigned artists, it appears. He said he has rights to about 200,000 songs now, but conceded there are no deals with major labels.

“Today, certain market forces are trying to drive consumers away from MP3 towards proprietary systems,” which lock out some consumers and force everyone to buy a particular company’s player or software program,” he said in a statement. “I felt compelled to re-enter the music space to bring the limelight back to MP3.”

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