Napster to Embrace Unprotected MP3 Sales

Napster announced that it will start selling music downloads as unprotected MP3 files in the spring. This is seen as a move to stay competitive with other online music retailers. The change will only apply to single tracks and album purchases. Track’s downloaded as part of Napster’s music subscription service will continue to have copyright restrictions.

MP3 files are compatible with most portable music devices, including Apple’s iPod media players, Microsoft’s Zune and most mobile phones that play music.

“The ubiquity and cross-platform compatibility of MP3s should create a more level playing field for music services and hardware providers and result in greater ease of use and broader adoption of digital music,” Chris Gorog, Napster’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.

Napster hasn’t said which record companies have agreed to sell their music as MP3 files through the retailer’s music service. Three of the world’s biggest recording companies — Vivendi’s Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group Corp. and Britain’s EMI Group PLC — cleared the way last year for some online retailers, including, to sell their artists’ music as unprotected MP3 files.

Selling MP3 files will be of secondary concern for Napster. The company plans to focus on selling monthly unlimited subscription plans which allow a la carte downloads and the option to transfer copy-protected tracks to approved devices. Napster subscribers have recently been told that the basic plan will increase from $9.99 to $12.95 a month beginning January 30. Existing subscribers have the option to lock in the lower fee if they pay for a full year in advance.