The Superbowl premier of Napster’s “Napster to go” service raises some interesting technophilosophical questions. The Napster to go service offered at $14.95 is an expanded version of the $9.95 PC only version, if you want to take the songs “to go” on select portable MP3 players. While I think the 50% price increase to allow portability is a bit excessive, the concept of the service is very intriguing to me. Is media ownership an antiquated phenomenon or because I’m a bit more rational than other net minds who decry everything that isn’t bleeding edge as hopelessly outdated, is ownership so ingrained into the American psyche that services such as Napster to go will never dominate the marketplace? Owning a song certainly doesn’t carry the same cultural attachments that owning a car or a house does, but there is still a strong attachment to the philosophy behind ownership of any kind.
There are two ideas people need to accept for a music service like this to work: 1.) Physical ownership isn’t important, use ownership is what matters 2.) Renting, given certain parameters, is better than owning. The second idea is less of a problem than the first. Many people are very content leasing cars one after another and most people rent movies instead of buying everything they want to see. However, renting music is different in some important regards. Music is something that you want to enjoy over and over again, most likely more times than you want to watch a movie (unless it’s Episode V or The Matrix), and any particular song isn’t going to change over time (i.e. if you like it enough to buy now, you’ll probably like it in ten years and it isn’t going to get any different), unlike a car which gets old and doesn’t have the same features as new models. So, while Napster to go is a terrific investment for any given month, its value as a service decreases somewhat when you string many months together.