Napster to 'Rent' Music for Portables

In its latest effort to unseat online music leader iTunes, Napster has turned its focus back to subscriptions. The digital music store is launching what it calls "Napster to Go," which allows customers to copy an unlimited number of songs to portable devices for a flat monthly fee of $14.95 USD.

Previously, Napster users could only transfer individually purchased tracks to portable players, which made the subscription offering unappealing to the rapidly growing portable music market. But Napster to Go makes use of Microsoft's "Janus" digital rights management that enables subscription content to move beyond the PC.

As first reported by BetaNews last year, Janus is a secure clock DRM technology that permits content to be licensed under a subscription pricing model and transferred to portable devices. If a subscription lapses or is discontinued, playback is disabled.

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Songs downloaded using Napster to Go, which has been in preview form for several months, are essentially "rented" and will expire if the $14.95 monthly fee is not paid up. The company says the technology is already supported in devices from Creative, Dell and iRiver.

"Napster To Go provides infinitely greater value and is much more exciting than the iTunes pay-per-download model," said Napster CEO Chris Gorog. "This is what consumers want and Napster is once again proud to lead the industry by being the first in the world to offer this revolutionary new way to enjoy music."

Subscription offerings thus far have been met with mixed results from users who demand full control of their music. But the model has been making progress; Napster currently touts 270,000 customers, while RealNetworks says its subscription base numbers over 700,000.

Napster hopes to strengthen its reach with the launch of Napster to Go, which is joined by version 3.0 of the Napster software. In addition, the company is preparing a $30 million marketing campaign to kick off the new service, including a Super Bowl television advertisement.

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