Mac Musings

Napster and the $10,000 iPod

Daniel Knight - 2005.02.04

If Reuters is to be believed, Napster is spending US$30 million to promote their music rental service, starting with a Super Bowl spot.

According to the article, Napster compares their $15/month fee with spending $10,000 to download 10,000 individual tracks from the iTunes Music Store.

As if!

I don't know what universe Napster is living in or how gullible they think the music-loving public is, but I can't imagine how they won't end up with egg on their face for this one.

Ten thousand dollars! Ten thousand tracks?

Sure, you could store 10,000 tracks on an iPod - but who would? And of those who would, how many don't already own most of that material on CD?

Apple has sold about 250 million tunes and 10 million iPods. Assuming everyone who owns an iPod is buying from iTMS (which probably is not the case) and that only iPod owners are using iTunes to purchase tracks from iTMS (which I know is not the case), we're looking at Apple selling about 25 tracks per iPod.

So how does Napster come up with their number?

Simple, it's the number of tunes you can store on a 40 GB iPod. And then the further assumption that you don't have any of those 10,000 tracks on CD, so you'll spend $10,000 to fill your iPod.

If Apple knew how to do that, they could give away computers.

Turn It Around

Let's turn this on its head and assume someone buys a 40 GB "Janus" music player with room for 10,000 songs. Again, we're assuming they don't have any music of their own to put on this new digital music player. They're going to get it all from Napster.

First, there's the selection process. How long is it going to take you to pick 10,000 songs from a catalog of a million? You'd probably spend days coming up with your first 1,000 tracks.

Then there's the little matter of downloading 10,000 songs over the Internet. Assuming broadband and a 1 Mbps connection between the buyer and Napster's server, we're looking at 40 GB of data.

One megabit per second is 7.5 megabytes per minute or 450 MB per hour. As a round figure, after selecting 10,000 songs from Napster's servers, we're looking at 100 hours or four straight days (ballpark) to download the music.

And forget about dialup. That would take over 20x as long.

Apples and Oranges

Sure, Napster wants to make a splash. They've only got 270,000 subscribers, while Apple has 40 times that many iPod owners. But what they're doing is ludicrous.

Of course, Apple could turn around and do to Napster as Napster is doing to them. Run an iPod ad, explain that when you buy a track from iTMS, it's yours to keep. Mention that you might want to keep this music in your collection for five, ten, twenty years or longer.

Then show the Napster price tag. $15 per month. $120 per year. $1,200 per decade. And if you fail to pay the fee, you lose the music.

Or buy an iPod, pay for just the tracks you want - I'm guessing Apple has statistics showing this is well under 120 tracks per year on average - and keep them forever.

Pay every month to listen to your favorite music or buy it once and own it forever.