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An appreciation of music piracy pioneer Napster in today’s Spotify-centric world

by Dan Kricke

This may be hard to believe, but once upon a time I actually downloaded music illegally. Maybe even more than once. Scandalous, I know. And I wasn’t some Johnny-come-lately pirate. No sir. I was in on the ground floor, cutting my teeth on digital music the way everyone in my age group did – with Napster.

But now Spotify is here and Napster is basically an afterthought. Or at least that was my thinking as I ran down Spotify’s feature list. For $9.99 a month I can get unlimited streaming music on my computer and my iPhone, save playlists for offline listening and even share mixes with other friends who are on Spotify. Sounds like the ideal service. Surely there isn’t a company that’s been around nearly as long as digital music that might offer a product with a similar feature set!

Except for…what? Napster!? See, reading about Spotify got me thinking about our old horn-headed friend. What I found was a feature set that sounded like a slightly less impressive Spotify.

For $9.99 a month Napster will let you listen to unlimited streaming music on your computer and your iPhone. It’ll also let you make playlists of your favorite songs to listen to that you can save for offline listening. About the only thing you can’t do on Napster that you can on Spotify is share mixes with your friends. And although I can’t nail down concrete figures for either, service, I have to imagine Napster’s going to begin with a larger streaming library given that it’s been around so much longer than Spotify.

I’m not trying to diminish Spotify. From everything I’ve read, its interface is easier to use than Napster and the audio quality is a step higher as well, and those things absolutely matter when the feature sets are so similar. And truth be told, I’ll probably go with Spotify if I choose to subscribe to one of the two because I am a bit of a sound quality snob.

But I am sitting here baffled that I haven’t thought about Napster seriously for a decade and meanwhile they’ve been offering a nearly identical experience to a service everyone won’t stop talking about.

That’s why this one is for you, Napster. If people weren’t paying attention to you before Spotify, you’re going to have an awfully hard time getting their attention now.

People always say, “You never forget your first,” and I think what they’re probably talking about is sex. That’s true, but I think there’s a generation of nerds who’ll always remember the first time they downloaded a song and didn’t pay for it. You’ll always be my first, Napster. And if anyone at a government agency or law firm is reading this, please consider Napster, “My first, my last, my everything.”