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Napster fills in the blanks with CD deals

The digital music service teams up with media products maker Imation to market and distribute Napster-branded blank CDs and DVDs via retail giant Target.

Napster is teaming up with Imation, a maker of optical media products, to market and distribute Napster-branded blank CDs and DVDs in North America.

The online music company also announced an agreement to sell the blank CDs, along with other products, via U.S. retail giant Target.

Imation, which sells a range of products from rewritable compact discs (CD-Rs) to storage devices, said Wednesday that it has signed a licensing agreement with Napster to become the music vendor's exclusive dealer of optical storage products. The companies said Imation will manufacture and distribute blank CDs and DVDs bearing the Napster name and logo.

Simultaneously, Napster outlined plans to market merchandise, including the Imation CDs and DVDs, at Target stores starting Feb. 15. The company said the "one-stop shop" collection would include prepaid Napster download cards, Napster 2.0 and other Roxio software, blank discs from Imation with promotional codes for free music downloads and Napster-branded Case Logic CD cases. Target will be the first national U.S. retailer to offer the entire package.

Napster hopes that it will attract new customers by offering many of the tools necessary to begin downloading and saving digital music files, according to company executives. It believes that existing subscribers will also buy the blank discs to create hard copies of files they download via its service. The company did not list pricing for any of the new products.

"This is an important first step in bringing the richest music experience to a mass audience, and Target is the ideal venue to reach customers," Mike Bebel, president of Napster, said in a statement. "Many people choose to place their music on optical media like the popular CD-R, so our partnership with Imation is a logical extension of Napster's brand and goals."

In related news, Napster announced that it is partnering with Digital 5, a maker of content-sharing software, to offer wireless access to its library of digital music to premium service subscribers. Under the deal, users of Napster 2.0 Premium can download files wirelessly onto devices loaded with Digital 5's applications.

Napster executives called the partnership another step in the company's strategy to combine its digital music service with networked home electronics devices other than personal computers and MP3 players. Digital 5's middleware is available in DVD players, televisions and stereo systems.

Napster made its name providing software that allowed people to swap music files over the Internet, but it was shut down in 2001, after the music industry filed a copyright lawsuit against it. In 2002, its remaining assets were purchased by Roxio, which makes CD- and DVD-burning software, and then relaunched last year as an authorized digital music service. It competes with online music providers such as Apple Computer's iTunes service by offering downloads of songs for 99 cents apiece or via a monthly subscription.

Legal online music digital services continue to show signs of solid growth, with iTunes claiming more than 25 million downloads. However, providers have yet to garner the same response as their unauthorized--and free--predecessors. A recent survey the Pew Internet & American Life Project published said the number of Americans who actively download music from the Internet fell to 14 percent in mid-December, compared with 29 percent in a similar study conducted in March, April and May 2003.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) continues to pursue individuals participating in unauthorized file sharing. Since September 2003, the industry group has filed roughly 400 lawsuits against purported music downloaders, claiming copyright infringement and seeking up to $150,000 per violation.