Napster Wireless Downloads Far From Ideal

Napster and AT&T have struck a deal that will allow Napster’s database of over five million songs to be downloaded directly by users of the AT&T mobile network…

The wireless company have already been providing mobile users with access to independent music from the catalogue, but this new partnership with Napster will allow AT&T to compete in the mainstream music market with the likes of Verizon and Sprint Nextel, who already have similar facilities in place.

As the mobile market is a rapidly expanding channel for music distribution, it makes sense for these telecom giants to get in on the act. The ease with which mobile downloading can be performed (and the potential invisibility of the billing process) may mean that this method of music consumption may well tolerate higher prices for individual downloads than could be expected via regular online purchasing. Both companies involved in this latest deal certainly seem to think this is the case – they will charge $1.99 for a single download, or a special bundle price of $7.49 for five songs per month. The service won’t work with Apple’s iPhone, as that device is locked into the iTunes service, which only allows downloads via Wi-Fi, not through a cellular connection.

Who Wants To Own the Wireless Downloads Market?

Although there is great scope for development in this arena, it is clear that usability and convenience are being sacrificed on a grand scale. The flaws in the iPhone model are obvious, given the remarkably limited freedom the TOS allow the user. However, even the Napster/AT&T offering is far from ideal – apart from the high pricing, usage of downloaded songs is also restricted. Upon downloading a track to your mobile, you will recieve an email which allows you to download a second copy of the song to play on your computer. This implies that some substantial DRM is at work to prevent further copying, but the details will not be clear until the service is officially unveiled on Monday. Considering the principle that convenience is the primary driver of success in new technologies, it seems that whichever service provides DRM-free, cheap and extensive access to popular music first will have the upper hand in the market in the long term. Alarm bells, anyone?


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