Goes Free, But Low Quality

In an effort to attract more subscribers to its digital music service, Napster on Monday launched an ad-supported offering that allows users to listen to over two million tracks free of charge. But there is a catch: the songs are streamed in low-quality audio and can only be heard five times each.

Unlike its traditional subscription product, by making the free service Web based via, the company can support Mac OS X, Linux and Windows users. When a user selects a track to hear, the site pops up a Flash player, which displays album art from the currently playing song and an advertisement.

There is also a 15-second advertisement that displays the first time the player is loaded. After a track is played for the fifth time, it can be purchased for 99 cents or the user must subscribe and pay Napster's monthly fee.


Napster rival RealNetworks' Rhapsody service offers a similar free option, but it is limited to 25 tracks per month. However, does not support playlist creation and its songs are available in a lower quality.

"Napster was born of the idea of eliminating all barriers to discovering, enjoying and sharing music and of putting the power in the hands of fans," said Napster CEO Chris Gorog. "With a vision to empower music fans in a legal environment, with an open, all-inclusive platform, we are very excited to share our new free music experience at"

In addition to free streaming music, will also feature two service designed for the music community. NapsterLinks enables users to send URLs to tracks on to others via e-mail or IM, and add them to blogs. The links will open the Flash player to stream the songs.

The Narchive, meanwhile, will serve as a public repository containing audio, pictures, stories and other memorabilia related to music. Individuals can setup a personal page with links to music, as well as search for information and photos of artists. Narchive is slated to launch in beta form shortly.

"With all the progress the digital music industry has made over the past few years, a digital music model that fully-satisfies everyone -- fans, artists, labels and rights holders -- has yet to surface," added Gorog. "We believe we have taken a significant step toward achieving this goal."

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