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Napster to offer lower rates, free downloads

The online music service Napster has announced intentions for a $5 subscription plan that offers users five free MP3 downloads per month, in addition to unlimited DRM-protected downloads.

Napster logo

On the evening of May 18, the online music service Napster (a subsidiary of Best Buy) intends to drop the price of its least-expensive subscription music plan from $12.95 down to $5. The low-cost subscription plan allows users unrestricted streaming from a catalog of over 7 million songs, as well as a new offering of five DRM-free MP3 downloads per month. Although Napster's music service has an international reach, the new subscription plan is currently available only to U.S. customers.

Napster will continue to offer a $14.95 premium plan for users who wish to take subscription content with them on portable devices (although, the service is still not supported on iPods). It is unclear, at this point, whether premium subscribers will also have access to the five free MP3 downloads offered with the $5 plan.

Microsoft's Zune Pass music service adopted a similar subscription model in November of 2008, offering unlimited subscription tracks and 10 free MP3 downloads for a monthly fee of $15. Rhapsody, the most significant subscription music competitor of both Zune and Napster, has yet to announce any tweaks to its pricing model (a $13 basic plan, $15 for portable device support). Time will tell if the demand for Napster's low-cost subscription plan will pressure both Microsoft and Rhapsody into repackaging their subscription plans, as well.