Digital music service Napster said Monday it would allow nonsubscribers to access complete songs and then play them, e-mail them to friends or add them to their blogs for free.
Users can listen to every song in the Napster catalog five times each, after which they must either buy it or become a subscriber. Registration is required but asks only for user name, password and e-mail address — no credit card is needed and no demographic information is requested.
Napster chairman and CEO Chris Gorog said the move in no way indicates that the company is abandoning the subscription model. He said it actually was the opposite, and that by giving people immediate access to the music of their choice anywhere and at any time it gave them a way to learn more about what a subscription provides.
“If the entertainment industry isn’t focused on removing obstacles and delivering unlimited access on-demand legally, consumers will get it illegally,” Gorog said. “The new Napster.com offers consumers a fantastic free music experience that is also the best possible introduction to the benefits of our paid subscription experience. We think it strikes a balance that both the industry and consumers will find tremendously exciting.”
Each selected song pops up in a player window that includes advertising and what the company calls NapsterLinks. These are buttons that let users send the song’s link in an e-mail, post it to a blog or social-networking page, add it to an instant message or place it anywhere else that supports an HTML link, where everyone who sees it can also listen to it for free as long as they are registered.
Other options in the pop-up player invite users to purchase the track outright, buy the complete album or subscribe to Napster. Free tracks are a 32K stream, but subscribers get a 128K stream.
Gorog said significant amounts of original editorial content had been added, including biographies and discographies by Napster’s own staff and an exclusive license agreement with the well-known Michael Ochs Archive of music photographs.
There also is a new section called Narchive, designed to be “a people’s history of music” where fans can post their own memories and comments along with photos, images of ticket stubs or anything else they wish. NapsterLinks work there, too.
“We believe this will be a unique music destination, unlike anything currently on the Web,” Gorog said.
The free Napster does not require any download and works on PCs, Mac and Linux computers via Firefox, Internet Explorer, Netscape and Safari browsers.