After months of silence, Napster Inc. is set to play its new digital music subscription service to a limited audience of beta testers Thursday, as the previously free peer-to-peer file-swapping service readies itself for its legal launch.
The Napster beta will be tested by some 20,000 members who will get a first-hand peek into the new service, which has been completely revamped since the free-for-all version was knocked offline last July amid copyright infringement complaints. The subscription service retains Napster's peer-to-peer platform, but also pays dues to the artists and labels who make the music, giving them royalties out of the still-undisclosed monthly subscription fees.
For those not on Napster's beta tester list, the company recently posted a preview of the subscription service on its Web site, demonstrating the software's security layer, playlist organizing capabilities, instant messaging features and new look and feel.
Napster is now focusing its attention on broadening its music catalog for launch, which is expected to take place this quarter, the company said. It also has sealed licensing deals with numerous independent labels and has jumped into bed with MusicNet, the music subscription service backed by RealNetworks Inc., AOL Time Warner Inc., Bertelsmann AG, and EMI Group PLC., which launched in December.
The once renegade company also announced Thursday that it had selected Portal Software Inc.'s Infranet customer management and billing software for its subscription service. The software will allow Napster to ensure accurate royalty payments, Portal said.
Although Napster still retains wide name recognition, it remains to be seen if it can corral its once millions-strong legion of users into paying for the music they became accustomed to enjoying for free.