Napster offers free trial of new premium service

It may not be a return to the heyday of free-and-easy song-swapping, but this month old-school Napster users have a chance to try out the newly launched service from Napster LLC with a three-day free trial period.

Hoping to persuade holiday shoppers to throw some of their gift-giving cash its way, Napster and its parent company, Roxio Inc., are offering users three days of unlimited listening of its online music catalog of over 500,000 tracks along with access to 40 on-demand radio stations throughout December, the company said Tuesday.

The free installation of Napster 2.0 is for users in the U.S. only and is currently only compatible with systems running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP or Windows 2000, according to Melissa Foo, Napster's retail marketing manager in the U.K.

As an added incentive to sign up for the Napster service, the company is also offering five free tracks that can be burned to CD or transferred to one of 40 compatible portable music devices for those who subscribe to the service for US$9.95 per month after their free trial ends.

Since resuscitating the Napster brand with the launch of Napster 2.0 in October, Roxio has been pushing hard to turn the pioneering peer-to-peer song swapping upstart into a legal, money-making business proposition with such innovative marketing ploys as its deal with The Pennsylvania State University, which offers students a "free" version of the service that is paid in part by the student's information technology fee to the university.

The new Napster is similar to existing label-backed services such as MusicNet and is also competing against Apple Computer Inc.'s popular digital music store, iTunes.

It's been two years since the free Napster service was knocked offline amid accusations of copyright infringement from the major music record labels. In the resulting fire sale of the company, Roxio, in Santa Clara, California, bought Napster's intellectual property and technology patents for around $5 million late last year. In May, Roxio paid another $39.5 million for the online music subscription service Pressplay, formed by Vivendi Universal SA and Sony Music Entertainment Inc., with an eye toward using the service's technology as the platform for the revamped Napster.

The paid-service Napster has licensing deals with all five major labels and a handful of independents. Though such licensing deals put constrictions on the Napster service, Roxio is still a CD-burning software provider, and as part of its holiday marketing blitz, it is offering Napster Burnpak. The product couples Napster with Roxio's Easy CD & DVD Creator 6 Starter Kit for $29.99, and with the December offer consumers get to choose five free tracks from Napster that they can download to burn to CD or DVD.

Last, but not least, the company is offering a stocking-stuffer-sized prepaid Napster Music Card that holds 15 digital music downloads for $14.85. The cards can be obtained at nearly 20,000 retail locations in the U.S., Napster said.

As for a Napster 2.0 outside of the U.S., Foo would only say that the company does have a gameplan for launching the service in Europe sometime in the new year.

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