Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Napster: Don’t Hold Your Breath Waiting for Our Awesome New iPhone App

truckBest Buy’s Napster wants you to know that you can now buy music “over the air” and beam it directly to your phone. Yawn.

What about the company’s awesome new iPhone app, the one that will let you stream music directly to your handset? You know, like the one that Apple (AAPL) just approved for Spotify, the superhyped service you can’t even get in the U.S. yet?

Don’t hold your breath says Best Buy (BBY). That Napster app is not coming anytime soon. And neither are apps for Google’s (GOOG) Android platform or Research In Motion’s (RIMM) BlackBerry.  And it’s because of those darn music labels. From a press note the company sent out this morning:

One of the most common questions Napster receives is, “When will you offer an iPhone app?” Well, Napster has created an iPhone application that allows subscribers to stream music on-demand to their iPhone—including personal playlists, albums and radio stations. You can imagine the company is also looking at streaming applications for several other mobile platforms as well (Blackberry, Android). However, due to the high licensing fees for streaming to a mobile phone, Napster has not yet submitted the iPhone app to Apple for approval or attempted to bring the application to market.

Now that’s an interesting approach–something akin to showing off a shiny new sled in a toy store window below a sign that reads “Not coming soon, not our fault.” Or that bank ad where the jerk takes the truck from the chubby kid.

I also don’t know if Napster’s explanation tells the whole story: Best Buy/Napster and the big labels already have an agreement that lets the company stream unlimited music to your PC for $5 a month. Just how much more would the company have to charge to accommodate the fees the labels want for mobile streaming? I’m supposed to talk with Napster folks later today, and if there’s anything I can pass along, I will.

UPDATE:  A little clarification from Napster president Brad Duea. His company’s position is that it doesn’t want to move about its $5 a month price, and that it would have to do so in order to offer streaming.

Why would it have to do that? Duea won’t spell it out. But henotes that RealNetworks’ (RNWK) Rhapsody, which has submitted an streaming music app to Apple, charges $15 a month for “on the go” service it already offers, and assumes it will charge the same for a service that works with the iPhone. Similarly, Spotify charges the equivalent of $16 a month for its premium service in the UK.

Of course, it’s possible that RealNetworks or Spotify will try subsidizing some of the cost for a mobile app in order to grab market share, and offer their iPhone/mobile services for something closer to Napster’s $5 fee.

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