July 8, 2005, 12:00 AM

Napster calls up the cell phone as digital music device

Napster is rolling out with mobile communications partner Ericsson a service that lets subscribers use their cell phones to access music from Napster.com, which will also e-mail files of the same songs for loading on their personal computers.

In its latest innovation in the digital music market, Napster Inc. is rolling out with mobile communications partner Ericsson a service that lets subscribers use their cell phones to access music from Napster.com. Napster will also e-mail files of the same songs for loading on its customers’ personal computers.

“We’re targeting markets that have both PCs and the mobile solution for the capabilities of dual delivery,” Napster president Brad Duea tells InternetRetailer.com.

Duea says he expects the Napster-branded service to initially take off in Europe, Japan and Korea, where mobile phones operate on 3G networks that use broadband connections to the Internet. He also expects the service to launch soon in areas of North America and Latin America. "We`ll start to see this within a year in the U.S. market," Duea says.

The service also needs to be supported by the roll-out of new cell phones, such as some already available from Audiovox, capable of receiving digital music. More than 700 million mobile phones will be sold worldwide this year, and 10% will be capable of receiving music over the Internet, Duea says. Music-capable phones also need to contain software that supports digital rights management, which lets Napster control access to music files under a subscription model.

Although these music-capable phones are at various stages of development – some can receive full-length songs while others only ringtones or streaming audio files – Napster expects consumer demand to push the market more broadly toward full-service phones that also serve as handheld media players, Duea says.

Napster hasn’t announced pricing for its mobile service, though it will offer both a monthly subscription service and the option to permanently download music to PCs or handheld devices. “Our pricing will be competitive,” Duea says. Napster currently charges its existing PC-based users $14.95 per month for unlimited access to its music files as long as the subscription is in effect; it also lets customers buy individual tracks for permanent usage at 99 cents each.

Napster, which ranks No. 269 in the Internet Retailer Top 400 Guide to Retail Web Sites, will make its mobile service available through mobile phone carriers, many of which already have technology relationships with Ericsson. Subscribers would be able to pay their Napster fees as part of their monthly wireless phone bill, Duea says.

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