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Goodbye, Napster . . . again

Posted by: Fred Burt on Tuesday, December 20 2011 02:40 PM

Earlier this month, Napster merged with Rhapsody in the US. With this merger, came the end of one my tech era hero brands.

Ah, Napster! For me, the year was 2000. Napster was among the fastest-growing businesses on the planet during the dotcom boom. I remember recreating a virtual top 40 from the mid-1980s in mere minutes. I remember thinking Napster was the coolest thing -- and the fact that it was “kind of illegal” made it all the more thrilling. I even wrote an article, “Napster: 9 Lives,” to articulate my enthusiasm for the brand.

The story behind Napster is, in my opinion, far more interesting than the Facebook/Zuckerburg saga that seems to dominate the news. Have a look at the comments posted at the bottom of this recent Mashable article “RIP Napster”. You will see the undeniable emotional attachment that so many of my fellow techies have to Napster. I suspect other high-profile tech demises were not accompanied by such fond reflection.

One of Napster’s chief mourners will, of course, be Apple. The trail for iTunes was, after all, blazed by Napster. BitTorrent, Spotify and others also owe Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning a huge debt of gratitude. (Parker’s alleged $2bn personal wealth suggests he’s moved on, but Fanning’s appearance on this 2009 VW ad suggests that he has not.)

Napster hasn’t been the original, irreverent Napster for a good number of years. The brand will now still live outside the US, but, whether or not the audience and the music industry have moved on, remains to be seen.

Few tech brands manage to transcend their functionality and become a truly loved cultural phenomenon, so, when one does, it should be cherished. While Napster may be gone for now, it has come back before, so I wouldn’t rule out a resurrection.

Do you remember your first Napster experience? Comments, please, from the other tech fogeys out there!

Fred Burt is the Director of European Clients in Interbrand’s London office.

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