When I worked in the Windows Digital Media Division from 2000-2005, our main competitors were first RealNetworks and then later Apple.

That period saw the rise of mp3 ripping, then sharing, via Shawn Fanning’s Napster.   This eventually kicked off the mp3 player and iPod revolution, but the original Napster was sued into oblivion by a consortium of record labels and artists in 2001.   But famous brands never die, so here’s a quick timeline of what follows:

  • The brand was acquired by an adult entertainment company in 2001 for $2.43M
  • They then sold it to Roxio (remember them?) who used it on their Pressplay Music service as Napster 2.0.  As an aside, Pressplay used Windows Media “Janus” DRM and was a key Microsoft partner at this time.
  • After a long struggle, Napster 2.0 was sold to Best Buy for $121M.
  • After a shorter struggle, Napster merged with Rhapsody in 2011.  Rhapsody was – for a while – owned by RealNetworks.
  • This week, Rhapsody rebranded as Napster.  The new Napster/Rhapsody will no doubt struggle on and more chapters will be written.

We should learn several things from this story:

  • Old brands can have incredible lasting value.  Remember the last time real humans cared about the Napster service was 2001!
  • The music service industry is a never-ending struggle with very little reward.
  • In spite of this, hope never dies – someone will always want to run a music service.  See Spotify (a popular service but a lousy business) as an example.