I had long ago completely written off Napster as a company that wanted me to 1) rent my music instead of buy it, 2) download music in Windows Media format that wouldn’t play on an iPod, and 3) volunteer to lock my purchases in the Windows Media DRM fortress. Yet today, they joined the ranks of iTunes Plus, Amazon and even Sony BMG when they announced they’ll be selling DRM-free MP3 downloads starting in Q2 of this year. They didn’t specify the scope of this move but I think they understand the industry enough to know that their entire catalog will sell better as MP3’s that are compatible with the millions of iPods filling pockets, purses and fuzzy “iPod socks” around the world. What a damaging blow to Microsoft’s Zune business, however, as Windows-only download services like this are a significant sales channel where the lack of competition makes them actually competitive (sound like a familiar Microsoft strategy?).
I’m happy to see the music business waking up and smelling 2002, finally. We’ve all been saying “consumers want a better experience and more for their money, not the converse” and it’s taken this long for business models to start to change. Of all the brands that it seems should have seen this coming, it’s Napster, but at least they’re arriving to the party while it’s still a party. I’ve got a 60GB iPod that’s only half full; Napster, I’ll be making a download account on March 1.