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Thanks to Advertisers, Napster's Almost Free Again

Samsung, Microsoft and U.S. Navy Among First Sponsors

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Napster is free again -- thanks to a slew of corporate advertisers including Samsung, Touchstone Pictures, Microsoft and the U.S. Navy, among others.
Napster has switched to a partially ad-supported model that allows users to listen to any song five times before they have to pay.
Napster has switched to a partially ad-supported model that allows users to listen to any song five times before they have to pay.

The former bad-boy of digital music turned legit when it launched a subscription-based digital music store. Now, it is using an ad-supported Napster.com to offer free access to 2 million songs -- almost its full library. The catch: Each song can only be listened to a maximum of five times and then a user has to purchase it for 99 cents, or become a Napster subscriber, which allows access to all the songs in the library on a rental basis.

Central to marketing plans
So while it hasn't exactly given up on its subscription model, a free approach is now central to its marketing plans. The new tagline running on sites such as Heavy.com and MP3.com, as well as offline: "Napster.com is now free, go crazy."

Recent In-Stat figures imply there's lots of dollars up for grab yet in the burgeoning online music market. Worldwide online music sales are projected to swell from $1.5 billion in 2005 to $10.7 billion in 2010. And an eMarketer report suggests it might be more important now than ever to launch a major promotion. While some digital music services -- namely iTunes, Yahoo and Rhapsody -- continued to increase their awareness in 2005, Napster stagnated (though it stagnated with the highest level of awareness, 79%).

"This is a means to provide as many people as possible with a great music experience," said Alan Cohen, chief marketing officer at Napster. "It's a chance to expose them to the brand, offer free music and a deep experience and then they can do unlimited downloads by becoming a Napster member."

He said it's unlike online radio because "with our offering, the user controls what music they want to listen to." Currently Napster is offering advertisers pre-roll video before tracks play, sponsorship of new releases and custom playlists through Napster's music programming group, which they can then broadcast on their own brand Web site.
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