How? It’s $15 a month (roughly) to use the Napster To Go service. A 40GB iPod holds 10,000 average pop tunes. They offer as many downloads as you want (they use the term “unlimited,” which is misleading as I’ll show in a moment) for $15 per month.
“D’oh!” say you, “Why have I been such a schmuck on iTunes when I can sign up for a month of Napster, download all the songs to my iPod I’ll ever want, and then sign off again?” This is of course the calculation Napster is making.
Several things of course are wrong with that statement. By the numbers, math students:
- Napster isn’t compatible with the iPod. That means they have lost 70% of the MP3 player market right there. So if you have an iPod, you’ll have to shell out another $350+ for a “Napster-compatible” MP3 player. If you have one of the few Napster supports, you’re golden. If you don’t, it’s off to the store with you. So add $350 to their price right off the bat.
- If you are superhumanly quick and perseverant, you might be able to download a tune every five minutes (this includes searching for as well as actually downloading and transferring your tune to your non-iPod MP3 player) for 18 hours a day. Well, you’re already spending $30 as it will take you a month and a half at that pace to download 10,000 songs. Of course a normal human might, if they were very invested, do it for an hour a day. You’ll have to do this every day for 2.2 years or so, meaning that the downloads have cost you $420, not $15. Do you really plan to spend $420 on downloadable songs in the next two years? I sure don’t.
- But wait, there’s more! Act now and you’ll hear the songs. Stop your subscription and…wha? Oh, no, wha happa? No tunage! Suck, dude! Yep, you’re renting the songs, not owning them. So if you go off Napster and want to listen to that cool tune you discovered, well, you’re toast. So number of songs you have the month after your $420 to Napster? 0. 0/$420 sucks much worse than 420/$420.
- We’re not done yet, weird bad-math cat-like creature! If you’re clever, you think, “Ah, well on iTunes if I ever want to have completely unrestricted access (using non-iPod MP3 players, putting them on an MP3 CD, moving them to more than 5 computers, whatever) I just burn them to a CD. I’ll just burn my Napster tunes to a CD and re-rip them. Score!” Bzzzt. Nice try, but if you want to burn your Napster tune to a CD, guess what you have to pay? 99 cents per song. So add $420 to your $420 if you want to keep them. So, price on iTunes for 420 songs: $420. Price on Napster for 420 songs? Two months of download fees ($30) plus 99 cents per song: $450. Whoa, that’s, like, smart, dude.
So, what are we left with? A service that is better described as for-fee, very personalizable and time-shiftable radio. There may be a market for that. If there is a big market, you can bet iTunes will have it soon. However, I doubt there’s a big market for that, as people will cease wanting to pay $15/month once they’ve finished collecting the tunes they want to keep. Simpler to just pay for them the first time, and never really worry about it again AND keep your iPod. Don’t have one and don’t want one? Burn them to CD and re-rip, or, consult one of the many DRM-cracking programs out there or exploit the analog hole.
Napster is never getting me, as a) the vast majority of my collection is from my own CDs, b) those few songs I want to pay for (to date a whopping 5) I don’t want to have to pay for again, and c) I don’t own an MP3 player. I just play them on computers, and iTunes is available for Mac and Windows.
Do the math, and you’ll find out that Napster costs you more money in the long run under realistic assumptions.