Napster: 'We've gone from devils to angels in music industry's eyes'
Published Jun 29 2012, 23:07 BST | By Andrew Laughlin Napster
, the notorious pioneer in digital music, feels that it has turned from "devil to angel" in the eyes of record labels, as the service relaunches in the UK and Europe.
Earlier in the year, the Napster International assets in Germany and Europe were acquired by US streaming giant Rhapsody for an undisclosed sum
, as part of its push into Europe.
Ever since, the Napster team has redesigned the entire platform from the ground up, and migrated over its existing customers.
The company is now ready for a big marketing blitz, highlighting its relaunch with a focus on helping people discover great music through a mix of editorial and social sharing.
Similar to rival services such as Spotify and Deezer, Napster offers a library of 15m tracks, including 1.6m albums, across 600 sub genres to stream on computers and connected devices.
Anyone can access the entire library for free, but they can only stream 30-second clips of each track.
Paying £5 a month allows you to stream the music in full on computers and IP-connected devices such as Smart TVs and home entertainment systems.
Bump that up to £10 and you can add up to three devices, including the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Android smartphones and tablets.
Thorsten Schliesche, the general manager of Napster in Europe, said that they decided to retain the Napster brand in Europe rather than use Rhapsody as it still has cache with customers.
Schliesche, who has been with Napster for seven years, said that the brand is still "synonymous" with digital music for European customers, while knowledge of Rhapsody is patchy, despite the company being established since 1999.
In Europe, Napster is also not so associated with its past. The site was founded in 1999 by Shawn Fanning, who became inspired after his university roommate complained about the poor quality of MP3 files available online.
Napster soon gathered millions of regular users by offering a platform for people to share music files via 'peer-to-peer' - but it was not long before it ran into trouble.
US recording industry bodies accused Napster of aiding and abetting widespread copyright infringement, claiming that up to 70,000 pirated songs were available on the site at any one time. The tech startup was also famously sued by rock band Metallica and rap star Dr Dre.
The legal action did nothing to dampen the popularity of Napster with its users, but continued friction with the music industry - seemingly fanned by both sides - led the company to explore various legitimate operations and collaborations, none of which came to fruition.
Dogged by lawsuits from the music industry, Napster filed for bankruptcy protection in summer 2002, leading to it being sold to US software giant Roxio.
After that, Napster was remodelled into a commercial music service using the well known brand. American retailer Best Buy splashed out $121 million to buy the firm in 2008.
Four years later, and the company was in the hands of Rhapsody, with the former 'enfant terrible' looking to put the past behind it.
Asked how the brand is now viewed by the music labels, Schliesche replied with a smile: "We have turned from devil to angel."
He said that the labels have warmed to the company's "passion" for music, particularly the drive to integrate social and editorial elements to its vast music library.
Schliesche said that the average customer will consume only between 80 and 100 tracks, but Napster has licensed 15m and wants people to use as many as possible.
In a dig at one of the firm's key rivals, he added: "Spotify is like Napster used to be, a long list of music. They just give you the music and say, there you go."
Napster differentiates itself by using its user community to help people navigate the massive music library.
Every user creates their own personal profile, giving information on their background, music tastes and so on.
They can create their own playlists based on whatever theme they choose, and then share them with others.
Some people become 'superusers' in certain genres due to their high level of activity, helping to guide others in what is the best music to access.
Just like Twitter, people can 'follow' others, meaning they are updated on new playlists.
Similarly to the now Tesco-owned We7
, users can also create personalised radio channels. These can be based on genres or specific bands, or even their own music library, with the system taking a random selection of 150 tracks.
Alongside user-generated recommendations, Napster has launched an editorial blog called The Mix
, which offers up to date articles on music and artists, all benefiting from featuring links to actually listen to the tracks.
Napster has an in-house editorial team producing articles on events such as the Radio 1 Hackney Weekend, but it also uses expert contributors from publications such as Rolling Stone
Alongside text, there are also video features, including On The Record
, featuring artists such as Carrie Underwood and B.o.B. discussing their favourite albums in just 45 seconds.
Napster hopes that this mix of social recommendations and editorial will help people navigate the music library, but also keep them on the site for longer, a key aspect for online businesses.
Alongside its desktop site, the service is also available on Apple iOS, Google Android, Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry, along with a range of connected TVs and home entertainment systems. The company is currently developing an app for Microsoft's Xbox 360 console.
Napster is available now in the UK