Napster today announced a swathe of numerous added value features to their UK service, including extensive editorial content and also video streams. These are the sorts of features which extend the blue water between subscription services and a la carte download stores. Although it might be tempting for Napster and other subscription services to try to steal some of the a la carte market away from Apple, focusing on, and enhancing the differences between the two propositions (in the way these developments do) will bring the greatest long term returns.
However one thing Napster can’t get away from is the crucial importance of Apple’s integrated device / store model. Napster had originally attempted to address this issue by working on a Napster branded MP3 player with Samsung, but this player was conspicuous by it’s absence in today’s announcement. In fact, the first bullet point was the offer of a free three-month trial to Napster To Go for anyone purchasing a Creative Zen Micro MP3 player or Portable Media Centre from Napster’s online store. Although Janus support is probably a major factor here it underlines the distinct advantage Apple has: the iPod range is a unified and clear consumer proposition, whereas the WMA supporting MP3 player market is heavily fragmented with no clear market leader.
Sony’s new MP3 Walkman range may well put a cat among the pigeons (and as usual Sony have launched with a winning form factor), but even if they do manage to become a clear ‘best of the rest’ in doing so they will have further fragmented the market. The big question is, if they gain significant market share, whose expense will it be at?