The story is too rich for the press to ignore: Napster is going free again. So, the headlines coming out all play up this aspect of the story, and it's only when you read the details that you realize Napster isn't actually going free. Instead, it's picked up on the (not very successful) marketing gimmick that RealNetworks put in place almost exactly a year ago. If you announce you're giving away free music to compete with file sharing networks, the press will play it up. It works even better in Napster's case, given the Napster brand's "history" as the original big name file sharing app. The reality, though, is that (just like Real's "free music") Napster is simply offering a limited promotion of free music -- in this case, the promotion lets you listen to any song five times before you have to pay up. It's not a bad promotional idea, of course, but it's a long way from free music. The "free" music will also come with advertising, which leads to the fact that the only way Napster was allowed to do this was to agree to share the advertising revenue with the record labels. In other words, to promote songs to the music buying public, Napster has to give up a share of its own revenue. And people wonder why most of these services are having trouble getting anywhere.
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