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New Pay Version of Napster Service Debuts

Nearly a year after software maker Roxio Inc. scooped up the Napster brand from the ashes of the pioneer file-swapping service, a revamped online music store bearing the familiar brand name debuted Thursday in limited release.

The company shelved its former online music service, pressplay, and began moving subscribers to a beta, or test version, of Napster 2.0. The service will be available to all in the United States beginning Oct. 29, officials said Thursday.

Napster 2.0 users will have access to more than a half-million songs from all the major music labels. They can download individual songs for 99 cents and albums for $9.95. The service also offers access to unlimited downloads and streaming for $9.95 per month.

Pressplay, which went offline Tuesday, only offered access to songs for a monthly fee.

The service allows users to burn or copy single songs onto CDs an unlimited number of times, but, like other services, users can’t burn more than five CDs with the same playlist.

“Our company’s passion for what we’re doing will really be felt by consumers and I think it’s also very consistent with the original vision for Napster,” Chris Gorog, Roxio’s chairman and chief executive, told The Associated Press.

The recording industry had successfully shuttered the original Napster, which established a peer-to-peer network for users to swap music with one another without paying copyright holders. The company went bankrupt and dissolved last year, and Roxio bought the company’s name in November.

Napster 2.0 will allow song-sharing between users who hold subscription accounts and the ability to browse other users’ music lists, among other features.

The company also hopes users will buy a new Samsung Electronics portable digital music player co-designed by Napster to work with its program and which can hold 20 gigabytes worth of songs. Any digital music device that plays Windows Media Audio files can also be used, however.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Roxio is betting the Napster brand will help set its service apart from a bevy of other digital music retailers that have launched since Apple Computer Inc. introduced its iTunes Music Store in April.

Last week, MusicMatch Inc. launched a Web site that sells song and album downloads and boasts record label licensing agreements that offered the fewest copying restrictions yet outside of iTunes.

Others, including Buy.com’s BuyMusic.com, RealNetworks’ Rhapsody, MusicNow and MusicNet, are also vying for a piece of the market.

The new Napster will also have to contend with iTunes, which has sold more than 10 million songs and is expected to be available on the Windows platform by year’s end.

“The space has become crowded because there’s a recognition of this is going to be a very substantial business,” Gorog said. “It validates Roxio’s strategy to enter this business.”

The music industry has seen CD sales plummet over the last three years as illegal music file-sharing exploded, beginning with the original Napster, which was forced to shut down in 2001 after a protracted legal battle with recording companies.

Meanwhile, file-sharing over the most popular peer-to-peer networks has declined in recent weeks, coinciding with a lawsuit campaign launched against downloaders by the recording industry.

Traffic on Kazaa’s network, the most popular, dropped 41 percent between the last week of June and mid-September, according to Nielsen NetRatings, which monitors Internet usage.

At the same time, online music sales are expected to grow from 1 percent of the total music market to 12 percent in 2008, generating about $1.5 billion in sales, according to Jupiter Research.

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