AOL. Napster. Partnership. Imagine if those three words had been put together in a sentence way back in 1999. It would've been something out of The Onion: AOL was the massive, dominant corporate giant, and Napster was pretty much a bunch of punks who were raising hell. But times change, and companies change, and today AOL has announced that it has inked a deal with the music subscription service--formerly synonymous with cyber-piracy--as the power behind the download service on its AOL Music site.
Napster will be replacing the AOL MusicNow subscription download service, which AOL had been operating since its acquisition of MusicNow in late 2005. The transition is expected to be complete within 60 days, according to an AOL press release. Current AOL MusicNow subscribers will be sent e-mails informing them of the switch, and will have the choice to opt out. AOL also is hoping for a seamless transition: current members will have their usernames, passwords, music libraries, and playlists preserved. If all goes as planned, that is.
It's interesting: my impression is that nowadays a copyright-infringement playground like the former Napster would immediately be seen as a potential partner or acquisition for a major company like AOL, and we would be seeing deals like this one made much earlier in the company's history. Just look at Google's purchase of YouTube, and the subsequent partnerships with major TV networks that have been popping up; perhaps a more appropriate example is the major movie studios' deal with BitTorrent. These days, punks raising hell on the Web aren't a bogeyman, they're a lucrative business opportunity. But back in 1999, it seems as though nobody really knew what to do about Napster.
As I said, times change.