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Napster president slams ring-tone rip-offs

"Some (mobile service) operators want to force consumers to buy all their content again," Brad Duea says.

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.
LONDON--Napster President Brad Duea has criticized cellular operators that use the popularity of mobile music to exploit their customers.

Speaking at Mobile Content World, Duea said consumers should only be charged once for their music--for whatever hardware they transfer it to. "Some operators want to force consumers to buy all their content again," he said. "That creates an island rather than an integrated experience."

Credit: Jo Best
Napster President
Brad Duae at Mobile
Content World.

Duea also called for mobile-service operators to avoid charging their customers almost three times as much to download a song to a mobile phone as the same track costs to download to a PC. "We need to have a reasonable pricing model," he said.

While it's common for ring tone peddlers and mobile operators to charge $5.45 (2.99 pounds) for a 30-second snippet of music while the same song is available as a download for music players at $1.43, the ring tone market doesn't appear to be suffering. It is, rather, predicted to be worth $4.9 billion this year.

Duea sung the praises of subscription music services, which can be bigger earners for music companies than the standard pay-per-track model. "Our research shows the concept of all-you-can-eat resonates very well with consumers," he said. "We really think the model should move to subscription."

The Napster head, however, acknowledged that subscription models present some challenges, mostly financial. "We do need to spend more with regard to subscriptions on mobile," he said. "The technology investment is much greater."

With analysts already predicting a market shaping up to be worth $11 billion by 2010, Duea is predicting that 2005 will mark a breakthrough for mobile music.

The only shadow on the burgeoning music market, according to the Napster boss, could be the record companies themselves.

"I think it's important the labels act as partners in driving this space. I think it would be very unfortunate if we repeated the mistakes of the Internet," he said.

Napster recently signed an agreement with Ericsson to jointly create an iTunes-style service for cell phones, due to debut next year.

Jo Best of reported from London.

Correction: This story incorrectly identified the company with which Napster had signed an agreement to develop an iTunes-style service for cell phones. The correct company is Ericsson.