WEEKLY WEB WATCH: As Napster refuses to go away, music industry looks to adapt

A funny thing happened to Napster on the way to the courthouse.

A funny thing happened to Napster on the way to the courthouse.

A funny thing happened to Napster on the way to the courthouse.

It seems that despite the music industry's best efforts to kill the Internet music sharing service, including having a judge declare the service illegal, it just will not die. At least not until it has been buried at midnight with a stake through its heart. In the meantime, attempts to hurt it just make it stronger.

In February, there were an estimated 1.1 million Napster users, according to Media Metrix. Then it was the preserve mainly of college students and a few teens with Internet access. That was also around the time trouble began to rear its head for Napster, if being sued by Metallica is trouble.

As it turned out, in the eyes of Napster's core constituency, being sued by Metallica was about the coolest thing that could happen to a company.

And when the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) - in other words, the major record companies - stepped in, that just proved Napster's credentials to millions of other people who like music.

The result was that by August around 6.7 million people were using Napster, a 500% increase in six months, according to Media Metrix. That makes Napster the fastest growing home software application ever.

This is a remarkable marketing achievement. Except that Napster has not really been marketing itself, apart from sponsoring a summer music tour catering to that core college constituency. But much of Napster's growth is not attributable to college students. According to Media Metrix, 38%of Napster users are 35 and older.

And that's not even looking at the fact that around 1.2 million people are now using it at work, when almost none were in February and March.

It's not just the American home that is being Napster-ized, it's corporate America too.

It's not Napster's marketing that is responsible; it's the music industry.

Every time there is a TV, radio or news report about Napster in court, more people know where to go for free music. And the mainstream music industry, to the delight of most music lovers, increasingly has the look of a rabbit in a Mack truck's headlights. The Mack truck is not some upstart in Silicon Valley - it's ordinary Americans. Lots of them.

The music industry is not the same as musicians, however. And more and more of the latter - not the million-selling superstars, but the thousands who are fighting to break through, get noticed and get retail shelf space - are discovering what a godsend Napster potentially can be for them.

That's why a label like Vagrant Records has teamed up with Napster to sponsor a fall tour of bands like of Face to Face, Saves the Day, Alkaline Trio and A Newfound Glory. Don't worry if you've never heard of these.

The aim is that by the end of the year, they won't be unknown anymore.

That is also why Chris Blackwell, the man who helped Bob Marley, the Police and many others attain global superstardom, is giving Napster the chance to prove itself as a marketing tool. His Palm Entertainment label is making its new artist Elwood's single Sundown available on Napster.

Blackwell and many others in the music industry are realizing that it's better to be hitching on the Mack truck than waiting for it to arrive.

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