The relationship between music and the Internet is in a constant state of evolution as the record labels struggle to survive in the face of free streaming, decreased albums sales, and illegal downloading. Just a day after Spotify -- potentially the record industry's greatest digital bridge for reconnecting its product with the consumer -- announced a handful of new apps to help solidify the social experience of listening to music, today it was revealed that Napster, the program that first threatened to completely destroy the music industry when it burst on the scene in 1999, will cease to exist.
According to CNN, Napster, which had been surviving as Best Buy's music streaming site, was recently purchased by Rhapsody, the largest on-demand music service. Today, December 1st, Rhapsody will officially consume Napster, taking the however many monthly users Napster still had and reroute them to Rhapsody's own 800,000-subscriber strong service. The acquisition is an obvious response to the Spotify's explosion onto the streaming scene, as that service's integration with Facebook and its new apps have quickly made it the forerunner in this niche industry.
'The Social Network' gave a truncated version of the story of Napster -- since it was told from the perspective of Justin Timberlake's Sean Parker, it ignored the essential contributions of programmer Shawn Fanning -- but it could be argued that Napster changed the way we listened to music as much as the LP, the compact disc, and iTunes. Suddenly, people didn't have to throw down $18 to listen to a CD, and the advent of high-speed internet ensured that, with Napster, users could acquire an album faster (albeit illegally) than getting in their car and driving to the record store.
Both the music industry (especially Metallica's Lars Ulrich) and the government successfully emasculated the original Napster in 2001, just two years after it launched. But at that point, the floodgates were permanently open: It inspired a dozen copycats, and as all those quietly died off, Bit Torrent and Rapidshare rose from the ashes. Even though the word "Napster" didn't make the major labels tremble like it used to, just its continued presence was a reminder of the Wild West era of illegal downloading, a time when the music industry shrugged its shoulders with a confused look on their face while Napster was forever revolutionizing how music was distributed. Parker, now an investor in Spotify, told CNN, "Spotify is an attempt to finish what I started at Napster," so perhaps this nearly industry-killing drama hasn't quite ended just yet.