Napster has halved its subscription price and introduced five free downloads alongside unlimited streaming, bringing its UK service in-line with its US model. Napster also ruled out an iPhone or Android application.
For £5 you get five DRM-free MP3s every month. Napster provides unlimited streaming at 128Kbps, with downloads at 256Kbps. Additional tracks cost from 59p after you've exhausted your five free downloads. Those five downloads expire at the end of the month if you don't use them.
Napster's new price also makes it half the price of the elephant in the digital music room. That elephant is green and Swedish and answers to the name Spotify.
Napster is quick to deny this move is a reaction to Spotify's business model, which it describes as "brave". The chaps from Napster told CNET UK that "ad-funded models have never worked in the past, and there's no reason to believe they will now". They should know, as Napster reckons it was doing the same thing as Spotify years ago and getting none of the plaudits.
Napster is keen to move away from Spotify's selling point -- offline listening -- and is also sticking with a WAP site for mobile access. Napster dismisses the iPhone as a "niche product", and points out its WAP service can be accessed by Android and iPhone.
That's missing the point. Despite being the poster boy for the digital music revolution, Napster has struggled to capitalise on its iconic name. Sour grapes over Spotify's column inches notwithstanding, Napster fails to realise that mobile apps are a PR essential these days. Even if the iPhone is a "niche product" -- and it obviously isn't, especially among people willing to pay for streaming music -- then the headlines alone would be worth the development costs.
Napster's mobile site allows you to preview and buy music over the air, as long as you have credit on your account. Downloads are sent simultaneously as AAC files to your mobile and MP3s to your computer.
Napster is available online in your browser or as a downloaded program. Download-management software is planned for later this month, which will drop your purchased music straight into iTunes, Windows Media Player, or whichever program you use to crank your choons.
Features include automix, which generates playlists of related music, similar to thefeature. Automix draws on user behaviour, looking beyond genre to see which tracks are streamed and playlisted together.
Napster offers radio stations, but unlike other services these are not randomly generated. Napster's editorial staff and third parties such as indie rag The Fly create regularly updated, extended playlists around moods or situations, giving these radio playlists a more intuitive feel.
The new subscription model is available now. Napster has also partnered with Dell to include Napster software on new Dell computers, including a year-long subscription and 60 free un-DRMed MP3s. A partnership to sell prepaid cards through a high-street retailer is also in the pipeline.
Update: Napster streams at 128Kbps, and not 128Mbps as we previously stated in this article. Although that would be pretty awesome.