Remember Napster? Rhapsody is refreshing Europe's memory

After buying the erstwhile pirate-music kingpin in 2011, Rhapsody International takes first major step with Napster and pushes it beyond U.K. and Germany to 14 new European countries

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
2 min read

Rhapsody International is breaking radio silence on Napster.

Since Rhapsody bought it in 2011, not much has been heard of the once high-flying peer-to-peer service that transformed public assumptions about consuming music. Now an above-board streaming service with more than 20 million songs in its global catalog, Napster will expand into 14 European countries from its current U.K. and German markets.

The move will triple Napster's potential base of users.

But it comes as a monolith in digital music industry is casting a wide shadow over Rhapsody and competitors like Pandora. Apple is widely expected to unveil a long-awaited iRadio streaming service next week at its annual developer conference.

The digital-music behemoth, which already has command of 500 million iTunes users versus the 70 million listeners at Internet-radio leader Pandora, would quickly pose stiff competition to companies like Pandora and its brethren, worries that pushed Pandora shares down 11 percent in Monday trading.

And Apple will likely roll this service out globally at some point, which means Napster's European domain will soon fall under the same shadow. Rhapsody is expanding Napster today to Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.

"Radio services like Pandora and what's rumored from Apple are a stepping stone for on-demand services like Rhapsody/Napster," Rhapsody spokeswoman Jaimee Minney said. "There is a place for both types of service in the ecosystem."

Napster paved the way for services like Spotify to thrive, by planting the seed for on-demand listening with its simple, easy-to-use file sharing program more than a decade ago. But hobbled by an onslaught of litigation from the traditional music industry, it morphed into a legal, streaming service and has been flying under the radar ever since, allowing the companies it inspired to tap the demand Napster precipitated.

Rhapsody says the European expansion is so long in coming because it tailored Napster for each market, rather than simply flipping a switch on facsimile products in all the countries. So for a customer in Italy, Napster's editorial teams will recommend music that's most relevant in that region, which will be different than the music served up in Germany.

Also, rather than Napster, Rhapsody has also focused on its making its own mobile app strategy, like SongMatch and iPad and iOS apps, the priority.

A Napster subscription is 9.95 euros per month, but it is offering a free 30-day trial for a limited time. The expansion, Rhapsody says, opens doors for partnerships and improves its sustainability by reaching a larger audience, important as additional players enter the market.

"We know that over the next few years only a few players will survive," Minney said.

And if nothing else, Napster has proven it's a survivor.