Napster (NAPS) has launched a web-based version of its paid subscription service. It’s a good idea (it makes Napster easier to use, and more portable). Unfortunately, it’s too late (RealNetworks’ Rhapsody rolled out a similar product in 2005) and ultimately too little (Rhapsody’s new player didn’t do much for the company). For a variety of reasons, subscription services make sense on paper but haven’t found much traction with consumers — which poses a problem for Universal Music Group’s proposed “Total Music” service (more on that later). Napster has been an acquisition play that’s been treading water for two years. We don’t see that changing anytime soon.
We’ve been dour about the music business in general and Napster in particular, so we feel obliged to point out that the company has done something right: It offers a nice, free, streaming music service, with few strings attached. It doesn’t require registration, has an extensive catalogue, and while it was supposed to be ad-supported, there’s barely any advertising there. Which is why the company has orphaned the service and hidden it from casual visitors. Check it out before it disappears.