September 2, 2004

Napster Vs. iTunes

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The war for college students’ hearts, ears and tuitions has begun, placing Cornell as a central battlefield in the fight to serve digital music and media to over 14 million increasingly tech-savvy pupils.

“Napster has the most productive and satisfying ways to discover and share music,” reads the Napster homepage. “The world’s most easy-to-use digital music store — stocked with hundreds of thousands of songs — is right inside of iTunes,” proclaims And now, Napster has come — in a big way — to the Cornell campus to claim its share of what is shaping up to be a $270 million dollar online market next year.

The University, for its part, is stepping carefully onto the battleground. Kent Hubbell ’67, Robert W. and Elizabeth C. Staley Dean of Students, compared the Napster trial to the Collegiate Readership Program that the Student Assembly recently instituted. When the Collegiate Readership Program first pitched the idea to the University, they first approached the Dean’s office.

“We encouraged them to talk to the students,” Hubbell said. After that, the SA began a trial of the Collegiate Readership Program, which distributes national papers, such as the New York Times, for free from various points on campus — and then voted to make the program permanent.

“This is consistent with how we’ve done things down the years,” Hubbell said of the SA’s input into campus policy. This amount of student involvement is opposite of what is happening on many campuses which are adopting Napster. At Penn State, for example, the decision was made by the administration, causing a few students to pepper the campus with protest flyers and lodge complaints about the misuse of their funds.

At Cornell, however, Nick Linder, SA president during the term in which the Napster deal was made, was very positive about the program. “I didn’t really see any drawbacks [to Napster], except to expand their library even more,” he said, pointing out that the service doesn’t currently feature any music by Dave Matthews Band. He did, however, say that the program still has a great volume of available music and great features, such as letting the user see what songs his or her friends are currently playing.

Linder also said that the assembly looked at other services, including iTunes and Live365, but found the programs lacking in the services college students most want.

One major complaint from Penn State students and several technology watchdogs is that, with Napster, students using Macintosh, Linux or even older Windows machines are unable to run the software, yet they are still forced to subsidize the service.

At Cornell, Beth Goelzer Lyons ’91, Marketing and News Analyst for Cornell Information Technology, gave the Sun estimates indicating about 20 percent of Cornell students could not run the current Napster technology.

Erica Kagan ’05, president of the SA, said that Napster’s incompatibility with Macs was a major drawback.

“I was actually surprised last year to learn that Napster is incompatible with Macs and iPods and other services — I really think this is an important issue to work on this year as we evaluate Napster campus-wide,” she said.

She also emphasized that the assembly has not made a final decision, again citing the amount of people unable to benefit from the service: “This was one of the main reasons that we felt further time and research was necessary.”

“Right now, it’s free. If you want to use it, great, if you don’t, that’s okay. We are sensitive that students using Macs can’t use the software unless they have Virtual PC,” Hubbell said.

Virtual PC emulates the Windows environment on a Macintosh and retails for $129. “We’re sort of engaged in what you might call and technical and commercial experiment,” he said. Both Linder and Kagan declined comment on pricing for the service, but said that doing subscriptions on a student-by-student basis was probably not feasible. At University of California: Berkeley and Vanderbilt University, however, Rhapsody Music Service and Napster, respectively, will give students services for two dollars-a-month to interested students on those campuses. Although these services are similar to what Cornell is providing, neither Berkeley nor Vanderbilt is subsidizing the cost.

Archived article by Michael Morisy
Sun Staff Writer