For Napster, these may be the best of times and the worst of times. The company finally unveiled Napster To Go, which allows subscribers to its streaming music service to put music on select portable digital music players. But not long after the service was introduced, Napster fell victim to a workaround that may threaten the company’s new subscription business model.
Napster now offers two music plans: Users can pay.99 cents to download a song, or for $9.95 per month, they can get streaming access to over 1,000,000 songs.
The workaround requires the Winamp player, changing its user setting, signing up for Napster’s free 14-day trial period, and then recording the Napster-provided music streams playing through your PC. It’s an updated – and higher quality – version of putting a tape recorder up to your speakers and recording songs off the FM dial.
News of the hack appeared first on various message boards, and was quickly picked up by the Los Angeles Times, which had the dishy dirt of Apple Computer chief executive officer Steve Jobs emailing the news around to record labels, writing “I thought you should know if you haven’t heard about this.”
When informed of the Jobs’ note, Napster’a chief executive officer Chris Gorog allegedly dashed off a response to the record label heads, reassuring them that Napster itself hadn’t been hacked, while pointing out Apple’s fallibility in the digital rights management game as well.
For good measure, Napster’s chief technology officer Bill Pence posted a message on the Napster homepage, writing “[N]either Napster To Go, Napster, nor Windows Media DRM have been hacked.”
The huge stir this workaround has caused, though, is a bit odd because many legal – and in some cases, free – programs convert streams into MP3 files..
Call it the soft underbelly of the subscription music business model, something none of the major players seems to want to talk about: It’s very easy to turn stream-only services into download plans without changing a thing.
Replay Music, which retails for $50, will even append song, artist, and album information to the file in the background, with about a 90 percent accuracy rate.
None of the the major streaming services – Napster, Yahoos MusicMatch, RealNetwork’s Rhapsody, or digital music distributor MusicNet – would talk on the record about their company’s position on the various programs.