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Napster flirts with Apple fanboys

'Get your MP3s here'

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Napster has a message for all you iPod and iPhone owners: It's now selling DRM-free MP3s.

Today, Napster unveiled a new version of its digital music service - for Americans only - offering its entire catalog for download in good old MP3 format, and as it was sure to point out in its press release, MP3s work just fine with Jesus Phones and John the Baptist Pods.

Yes, you can still use the service on an "all-you-can-eat" subscription basis. But now you also have the option of purchasing any individual tune without DRM restrictions.

Napster Chief Operating Officer Christopher Allen wouldn't speak to us, so we're obliged to use his canned statement from the press release: "Our goal is to enrich your life with music, in ways that are personalized to you," he said. "Napster now offers a truly complete and synergistic digital music destination, where music lovers can not only discover and listen to music, but also buy and own everything they want in MP3 format, which works on any music player. The combination offers consumers the best of both worlds."

Napster brags that "it's the first music subscription service featuring major label content to offer 100 per cent of its catalog in the MP3 format for download sales". Famously, Amazon offers its entire catalog in MP3 format, but it doesn't give you the subscription bit.

Napster also brags that its service is 50 per cent larger than any other. But this may be stretching the point. Amazon claims over five million, while Napster claims over 6 million. Last time we checked, that's not 50 per cent larger.

Individual Napster MP3s are priced at 99 cents, and most MP3 albums can be had for $9.95. Most of the catalog - but not all - is available at a 256kbps bitrate.

Apple offers DRM-free downloads on its iTunes service - but only from from one mega-record label: EMI. (These will play on any device that supports the .AAC format).

Yes, Napster offers iPoders and iPhoners something they can't get at iTunes. The question is how many will actually partake. So many stick with all things Apple because they prefer sticking with all things Apple. ®

Update

Christopher Allen just got back to us. He's acknowledges that there's some debate over the size of Napster versus the size of Amazon's music service, but he points out that without a doubt, Napster is larger. He also says the company is exploring a 100-per cent MP3 download service for countries outside the US.

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