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BMG alliance may hinder Napster cloners

But the P2P cat is out of the bag...

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Comment The BMG-Napster deal won't only annoy some of the music business' biggest companies, it's also going to irk many of the Napster wannabes out there.

They're hoping to cash in on Napster's success by providing the security and/or royalty payments that the music industry has demanded of Napster. By all accounts, digital music is shaping up to be the new economy's latest gold rush.

Take Wippit. This newly-launched operation claims to offer a music industry-friendly alternative to Napster, though its Web site doesn't say how.

All it does say is: "Wippit is the most comprehensive MP3 search and retrieval tools available." Available? Well, there's an early alpha version of the search software you can download.

And it certainly offers some impressive searching technology: "Wippit offers many unique features that make finding the MP3's [sic] you want easier and quicker:

"Wippit allows you to search using the following fields: Artist, Song, Album Title, Genre, Year [and] Track Number." And get this: "By combining these fields you can really narrow down your search queries or find the missing album tracks that you're after." No shit...

The company's business model is to charge a "nominal" annual subscription, subsidised by advertising. And, we suspect, from the sale of email address lists. The site is currently running a $10,000 prize draw, and the more of your chums' email addresses you type in, the more chances you have of winning. If that's not 'spam target list' generator, we don't know what is.

Of course, Wippit is aware of the threat posed by a legitimised Napster, but dismisses it: "I know that Napster will do this but they will have to completely re-design their business model to make it work, when Wippit is already up and running," says the company's PR flak.

To be fair to Wippit, it's not the only one of its kind, merely the most recent of a stack of such bandwagon-jumping companies that we've been emailed about over the last six months or so since Napster started appearing in newspaper headlines. Its publicity does seem particularly dim, but we've seen worse.

We've tried the software and it seems perfectly useable, if basic. We nabbed some Madonna and Radiohead MP3s - we hope both artists will receive their due. If not, they can email info@wippit.com. We weren't asked a cent for the privilege of downloading their music - presumably once Wippit gets out of alpha, the company will begin charging.

By which time, so to will Napster. Companies launching on the back of Napster's notoriety will suddenly find themselves competing with it. And its hard to see how they can. Napster has a far larger installed base of users, even if you allow for plenty of them leaving when the subscription demand appears.

But that may not matter all that much in long run the arrival of Wippit, and the numerous companies out there doing the same thing, shows just how much P2P has changed the digital music market. BMG's deal with Napster is a sign that this major label, at least, understands this. So too does Universal's launch of a Napster-style subscription-based sharing service of its own.

In the digital age, artists will make music, give it away and rely on royalties from the likes of Napster, AppleSauce, Wippit and co. ®

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