Napster sells out, but fans singing a different tune

The site's loyal users are howling over a possible subscription fee, and Napster knockoffs benefit from the turmoil

Analysts and pundits have had their say on whether Napster can survive if a fee is attached. Most say it will.

But a sampling of the 38 million Napster users sounding off shows many are wondering the same thing. Napster chatroom junior member "daemon" wrote: "Who'd pay for something that you can get for free?"

"What do we do now, pay? Come on, people know [there are] a lot of other ways to download MP3 files for free," writes StephQ at the Napster forums. "Before doing the $4.95 a month thing, please try to find something else. Get sponsors, put publicity, do something!"

Chatrooms have been burning up since Napster and Bertelsmann, which owns one of the record companies suing Napster, surprised everyone Tuesday and announced an alliance.

Napster chief executive Hank Barry said the company will get a makeover, including charging its users some type of dues. He estimated in the past that $4.95 per month could bring the music companies as much as $500m a year in revenue.

But the deal depends on Napster users' willingness to pay. While analysts say they will, some fans are already choosing alternative file-swapping tools.

"I'm disappointed. I was hoping they could keep the site free," said Jeff Delauney, 26, of New York

Delauney said he and his Napster-using friends plan to explore other file-swapping tools, like Gnutella. He's also hearing rumours of a Napster2, a renegade tool based on Napster but without the fee, he said.

"Napster sold out a long time ago," wrote one junior member of the Napster forums. "Napster is just a corporation and always has been," he added in a profanity-laced message.

"Napster f---ed up majorly by signing the deal," wrote another Napster forum senior member.

In another Napster forum, an "artist" wrote: "People, it's time to let the record companies know what the Internet companies found out the hard way... The free world is here and it's not going anywhere... The people have spoken... Our music is free."

Napster also found itself the subject of a boycott, conjured up in a chat room on its own site.

"Let's start a positive boycott," wrote author Weaders. "Let's all download the music from somewhere else on the net."

People who wrote messages in this chat thread all said that they downloaded Songspy, a Web-crawling tool a la Napster that was launched in August.

Apparently the half-dozen downloads were part of a huge spike in traffic at the site, which included more than 25,000 sign-ons in a day, said Songspy cofounder Dietrich Stein.

That's a 250 percent increase in just 24 hours. The site is also getting feedback from Napster fans as well, said Stein, who co-founded the tool along with Gavin Hall.

"We get a sense from our users that Napster has betrayed the thing that made it possible," Stein said. "What we are seeing is a mass exodus." But Napster does have its supporters, regardless of how much it soon may cost to use.

At the SaveNapster Web site, which has been posting proposed business models for Napster, messages have been chiming in with overwhelming support for a pay model.

Among the audience at SaveNapster is Napster's Barry, who mentioned the site in the bevy of announcements Tuesday about the deal with Bertelsmann.

"I pay $19 a month for my Internet service, I would be willing to pay the same for Napster," wrote Jayne Post.

SaveNapster's Adam Petrillo said the sentiment among SaveNapster fans is "people will pay a small fee for the services", and he estimates it is a vast majority, something on the order of 75 percent. Jupiter Research's Stacy Herron, a music analyst, agrees.

"People will start to pay for services when they are guaranteed a secure service," she said. "Will some folks be turned off by this? Sure, a few. But most will stay on."

Gnutella's Gene Kahn is hearing the same positives about a pay model.

"I've heard a lot of people say they would love to pay. They would love to have that convenience," he said.

Take me to the MP3 Special

Judging from the avalanche of criticism unleashed by the announcement of Napster's deal with Bertelsmann, Charles Cooper reckons you'd assume that management had pulled one of the greatest double crosses ever! Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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