Napster announced yet another iteration today, allowing users to stream over two million tracks on their ad-supported website and to share links to artists, albums and even specific songs through email or on other websites. Sounds good, but in practice it's not so wonderful.
Catch #1: you can only play each track a maximum of five times before you have to buy it for $0.99. You can pay Napster $9.95 a month to listen to unlimited music both offline and off, except that you can't listen to the music you download after you stop paying, or join Napster To Go for $14.95, which lets you transfer your music to compatible mp3 players. How does this suck?
Letting you play a track all the way through (albeit not in the greatest sound quality) five times + the 99 cent price is a nice touch as it makes you more likely to get addicted to a song they have on offer than the short clips the iTunes store provides. The subscription services are still as ludicrous as they were when first launched, especially Napster To Go, and we'd still much rather just buy a few tracks and own them for good, supplemented with listening to Last.fm's personalized radio stations.
Catch #2: Sharing a link is just that, passing along a text link to Napster's page to whatever it is. Here are two examples, the first url is the format you're supposed to pass by the email and the second the format for adding to sites: Basement Jaxx's Oh My Gosh(Radio Edit) and Sia's Breathe Me (Four Tet Remix). We can see how this would be useful for when you just want a friend to hear a song once or twice, but for linking on a website it's just ridiculous that you can't place a Napster-branded audio player for a particular song on your blog or MySpace, the way you can with video from YouTube, Google Video or Vimeo.
Napster, c'mon now, you've got to learn from the success of the video sites: if you want people to link to your media, you have to let them do it without making their users have to 1) immediately leave their site and 2) register with yours. A little less greed upfront will make using your site so much more useful and therefore more appealing.