Clarifying Rochester’s Napster Numbers

I think people have misunderstood reports on the University of Rochester’s survey of on-campus Napster 2.0 Unlimited usage.

Rochester students’ use of iTunes shouldn’t necessarily be seen as
replacing free Napster Unlimited usage.  That’s an unfair
comparison. iTunes
sells permament downloads. Rochester students only get subsidized
access to Napster Unlimited, the
unlimited streaming and tethered download service. That’s not an
adequate replacement for most people, because you don’t get to keep the
songs and you can’t move them to portable players.  For Napster To
Go,
they have to pay an extra 5 bucks per month.  Thus, Rochester’s
Napster Unlimited subscription, rather than a replacement for typical
purchasing habits, is more of a complement to them.

Students certainly have used what they get for free.  As The
Register reports, “To Napster’s credit, University of Rochester
students do embrace the
streaming and tethered download aspects of the service. A healthy 47
per cent of students added a song they liked to their streaming
playlist, while another 39 per cent acquired a tethered
download.”  What we don’t know, and what’s really important, is
whether and how frequently the students use the service over time.

What they’re certainly not doing is buying permanent downloads from
Napster.  And why would they?  Apple has a bigger catalog and
basically everything available in Napster is available there. 
iTunes software is superior.  Apple downloads are compatible with
the iPod, and the DRM is relatively
easy to evade (by burning to CD and ripping) or circumvent (via JusteTune). 
Napster’s price discount for “track packs” is irrelevant, partly because they’re
cumbersome and partly because they’re advertised so poorly.

Nothing about Rochester students going to iTunes suggests they choose
it instead of the Napster 2.0 subscription.  It just means they’re
only using Napster Unlimited for what it is: a complement to
purchasing. 

One might wonder why the students aren’t taking to the dirt cheap To Go
subscription rate, but there are many fairly obvious answers.  For
one, hardly any portable players – most notably the iPod, but also most
others – don’t work with it.  Second, most consumers are still
fairly uncomfortable with the rental model – that’s going to take time.
If To Go were free as well, Rochester students might be more willing to
give it a go.  Third and related, students might find it more
worthwhile to pocket that extra 5 bucks per month and put it towards
permanent downloads.  They might use Unlimited to search for stuff
they want to buy, and there’s a trade-off if they spend more on the
subscription service.

As far as what this means regarding the success of campus subscription
plans, I don’t think we have the data to understand that. E.g., are the
students buying more now?
decreasing P2P usage? how frequently are they using Napster?  The survey doesn’t really cover those in a rigorous way.