Napster’s Bad Deal

Napster's logoNapster’s Superbowl ad, which will air sometime in the next couple hours, encourages viewers to “do the math” on how much it will cost to fill up their MP3 player using Napster or using iTunes. Never mind the fact that the same MP3 players won’t work with both, so if you already own one…

Napster’s bait: you can get an unlimited amount of music for (only?) $15 per month. Napster hopes people will think, “Wow! I can download 100,000 songs for only $15.” And that would be true. You could technically sit there and click buttons for an entire month and download and listen to an unlimited amount of possibly-good songs. You could. Also, you can use Napster with your choice of 75 different music players! None of which are an iPod. None of which are as good as an iPod. Oh well. There’s gotta be one that’s almost as good, right? Let’s hope so.

Napster’s sharp, rusty hook: when you end your subscription, you no longer have any of the music you “purchased.” What you’re actually doing is renting your music for $15 each month. Stop paying? Stop enjoying your music. It’s that simple.

Now, let’s do some real math.

Let’s say you purchase 8000 songs online. That’s about 800 albums worth of music, all purchased online. That’s more than one album each month for the rest of my natural life. I’d say that’s pretty realistic for a lifetime of music buying. It’s even a liberal amount. I’d bet most people never own that much music. I totally love music and I own only about 2400 songs (not counting speeches, audiobooks, etc). Mind you, the number I’m quoting here is 8000 songs on top of the music you already own on CD. It’s all the music you’ll buy online in the future. I know a few people who have 6000 or 7000 legally-obtained songs, but just a few. It’s certainly not the norm. (If you’re stealing music, you don’t even need to bother with these equations because all your music is free. But don’t steal music.)

Now, consider this: I plan on living for another 60 years. That’s what I’m shootin’ for. I would like to be able to listen to this music any time I want up until the moment I die. Maybe even while I’m dying. Why not? It’s my music.

How much would this plan cost me with iTunes? Well, 8000 songs at $0.99 each would be about $7,920 for a lifetime of music. How much would this plan cost with Napster? Well… 60 remaining years of life times 12 months a year times $15 a month is… $10,800 for a lifetime of music renting. Surprise! It looks like iTunes wins by a wide margin! And if you buy less than 8000 songs, iTunes’ margin widens by even more than what it is in this example. In fact, assuming a remaining lifespan of 60 years, you’ll have to purchase over 10,692 songs to break even with what iTunes gives you. That’s not taking into account that, on iTunes, groups of songs bought as albums are usually much cheaper, you can get a new free song each week, etc, etc.

Now think about this: what if Napster goes out of business? What happens to your music, the music you thought you owned? I don’t even want to risk it. What if I want to burn my music to CD? Napster charges me extra. What if I wanted to be able to pass my music collection on to my kids and grandkids, as I think most people would? Then the fee goes up, up, up. iTunes’ prices stay right where you left them, and you can burn your music to CD or do pretty much whatever you want with it for no extra charge.

Now, combine that with the fact that Napster doesn’t work with the most popular MP3 player on the planet (and most popular for a very good reason) and… why would I use Napster, again? Oh, I know! If I’m terminally ill it’s a great deal! Honestly, if I find out tomorrow that I have cancer (which honestly, I may, because cancer has claimed so many in my family) and I’ve got a year to live, I’m totally going with Napster. So maybe Napster should change their slogan:

Napster: the music service for the elderly and terminally ill!


Update: Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. I put up a quick-n-dirty Napster & iTunes Price Calculator just so you could all play around with your own set of figures.

10 thoughts on “Napster’s Bad Deal

  1. Heh, I think this is a great analysis.

    BTW, in a server in my dad’s office (he works from home, so that’s just downstairs) is iTunes with… let me see… 33497 songs (3354 albums). At least 90% of those are ripped from CDs that my dad has in the basement. The rest are either provided from CDs that I or my brothers own, or (and this last one is no more than 0.5%) downloaded from usenet. And the usenet downloads are generally stuff you can’t buy in stores.

    So yeah, we have a lot of music already. And it’s *all* in non-DRM format (originally all was MP3, but it’s all being converted to AAC (well, the stuff on CDs is)). So my dad has plenty of music that his children (i.e. me and my brothers) can listen to and pass on to our children, etc. And that number will just keep growing. I know I buy stuff from the iTunes music store (although my dad doesn’t, since he doesn’t want DRM music), and if I ever want to pass it on to someone else, I can Hymn it (although that leaves my name on the track, IIRC) or do the CD route.

  2. Kevin, your dad has an amazing amount of music! That’s incredible! Well, for a guy like him, it’s hard to position any service, and clearly, he’s chosen to use none. The top 1/10th of a percent is always hard to market to. 🙂

    That’s really cool that you have so much music at your fingertips.

  3. Hilarious!

    I tried to use your calculator but the “go” button didn’t work on this computer. Also, I noticed that links to the main blog page and to entries before and after an archive didn’t work. Anyway, I loved the tone of this entry.

  4. Those problems happen on IE 5 for the Mac, and I see that’s what you’re using. That’s really unfortunate. I take it that means you’re on Mac OS 9? If you’re on Mac OS X, you should definitely use Safari instead. IE for the Mac is probably the worst browser on the entire planet. MS stopped working on it about two years ago, and they’ve said they’re never going to update it again. So, as soon as you can get onto Mac OS X, you should definitely get a better browser!

    Still, I don’t want to turn this into a tech support forum. This is about how bad Napster is. 🙂

  5. Thanks for explaining the gritty details. That “Napster for life OR your music dies” clause is a corporate stealth stinker.

  6. The analysis isn’t entirely complete. You need to take into consideration capital cost. 🙂 When do you buy what. And also listening pattern.

    Shorter version; if you buy in excess of one CD a month for the rest of your life then Napster is cheaper than iTunes (or Napster when buying albums). Napster also gives you instant satisfaction, where as the iTunes investment grows over time. (The first month you have only one CD, the next you have two etc.)

    At the end of the day it is a preference thing. I like the idea of Napster To Go.

    (And to join the bashing party; I’d rather use the ordinary pay-per-CD service of Napster than iTunes simply because it is compatible with my MP3 players…)

  7. Ummm… if it’s that kind of logic that justifies Napster, I’ll keep my iTunes. You said: “Shorter version; if you buy in excess of one CD a month for the rest of your life then Napster is cheaper than iTunes (or Napster when buying albums)”.

    Actually, no. I just proved that was incorrect above. Please read it more carefully.

  8. but wait… if you put them on your mp3 player, do you not then have disposal of the music files?
    maybe i’m missing something.

  9. One thing I didn’t mention is that when you put them on your MP3 player, the file carries a sort of “expiration date” that has to be refreshed once a month. So if you don’t reconnect your MP3 player to your computer at least once each month to prove you’re still subscribed, your songs “expire” and you can’t listen to them on your MP3 player anymore.

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