Napster, the company started by an 18-year-old college dropout named Shawn Fanning in 1999 that would forever change the music industry, is finally done. Thursday marked Napster’s official merger with Rhapsody, the largest on-demand music service in the US. Last month Rhapsody purchased Napster from it’s previous owner, Best Buy, for an undisclosed sum.
Napster pioneered peer-to-peer file sharing, and inevitably music piracy, with its simple idea: a program that allowed computer users to share and swap files, specifically music, through a centralized file server. For many it was their first foray into digital and online music discovery, and for the music industry a wake-up call. At its peak the robust system had 25 million users and 80 million songs that could be simply traded and downloaded for free. It lasted for two years in its original form until 2001 when the Recording Industry of America (RIAA) filed a series of lawsuits, finally bringing the company to its knees.
After the original shut down Napster changed hands several times, fighting to stay alive, until ultimately being purchased in September 2008 by Best Buy for $121 million. Eventually other P2P services like Kazaa and Limewire would fill the hole left by Napster, treading the murky legal waters until their impending demise.
But Napster did revolutionize the industry – record companies realized that customers were no longer content with only buying CDs, and the digital download model, à la iTunes, was born as a conciliation. Now the Music Unlimiteds, Rhapsodys, Rdios and Spotifys (where Napster co-founder Sean Parker is a major investor) are shaking up the industry landscape once again.
For everything that Napster spawned – good and bad – we’ll be sad to see what was one of the first widespread digital music solutions finally go.
What are your favorite memories of Napster?