Napster Essay, Research Paper
The affect on album sales
Napster is a computer program written in 1998, by Shawn Fanning, while he was a
student at Northeastern University. It allows us to download songs for free from other people that
have the program. There has been a lot of debate on whether Napster helps or harms album sales.
Several studies give us mixed signals on the impact of this music-sharing software.
Music Executives, and artists like Dr. Dre and Metallica, believe that Napster is hurting
the music industry. They are suing Napster for copyright infringement because they believe they
are losing millions of dollars, and therefore. Lawyers for the bands believe that “Whether online
or offline, it is illegal to copy and distribute someone else’s work in a way that deprives them of
income” (Vogelstein, par.8). They believe that anyone getting or distributing music over the
Internet is breaking the law.
Napster’s lawyers say that Napster isn’t buying and selling music illegally. They don’t
own or distribute the music itself. People are downloading music from other people and sharing
it with each other. Even though Napster only operates the servers that enable users to search for
music, the record labels still believe that they should be held liable. Music companies want the
courts to shut those servers down.
Several studies suggest that shutting down Napster will hurt album sales. Rolling
Stone magazine recently asked 5,000 readers whether they have bought fewer CD’s now that
music is available for free online, and only eight percent said yes. Most of the readers, fifty-four
percent, said their buying habits haven’t changed, and thirty-six percent said they are buying
more (Hansen, par.3). Another study by Greenfield Online and YouthStream Media Networks of
college students found that two-thirds of the people who admitted to downloading songs said
they did it to preview music before purchasing it. This study also finds that nearly eighty percent
of the people who use Napster said they still plan to buy CD’s.
One of those people is my friend Jimmy Leon. He likes to download a couple of songs
from an album before he goes out and buys it. He said, “I’d be more likely to download a song
and get an album if I liked it. If anything, Napster has made me want to buy more. It’s kind of like
listening to the radio.” He is saying that if he didn’t have the option to sample a song before he
buys the album, then he would buy less music.
Other people buy music even after they’ve downloaded it from Napster because they
prefer having a CD they can play in another part of the house, instead of listening on an MP3
player or computer. “Searching for and downloading music can be exhausting,” Jimmy said. “If
you want to get a whole album, it takes awhile. It’s more trouble than it’s worth.” The danger for
record companies is that there are a lot of people like Jimmy, and the battle to shut down Napster
could come at the expense of their best customers.
According to a new study from the Internet research firm, Jupiter Communications,
people who use Napster and other file-swapping networks to trade music, are more likely to
boost their music spending than those who don’t use such services. Jupiter said it surveyed more
than 2,200 online music fans about whether the money they spent on music purchases had
increased, decreased, or remained the same since they began visiting music destinations on the
Web. People between the ages of eighteen to twenty-four, who spend less than twenty dollars on
music within a three month period, indicated that they were likely to remain at a constant
purchasing level despite online music use. All other groups said they had increased spending as a
result of online music use. Jupiter analyst Aram Sinnreich said “Because Napster users are music
enthusiasts, it’s logical to believe that they are more likely to purchase now and increase their
music spending in the future.” Sinnreich said “the report is a further indication that the music
industry should embrace file sharing technology rather than pursue lawsuits aimed at shutting
down the companies behind it” (Hansen, par.5)
In his testimony, Hank Barry, Napster’s CEO, said “One study found that ninety five
percent of the files downloaded through Napster are eventually deleted.” That shows that fans are
using the service to sample music, not keep it. The establishment of Napster could explain why
music sales, in general, are up this year. According to Soundscan, there were 355 million albums
sold in the first six months of 2000, vs. 332 million in the same period last year. That’s an
increase of seven percent (Hansen, par.2). ‘N Sync, Britney Spears and Eminem all had explosive
first-week sales records. These studies suggest that Napster has a positive impact on album sales.
Napster can also help album sales through marketing. Recently, rap rockers Limp Bizkit,
and rappers Cypress Hill, signed a deal with Napster to perform free shows for a month
nationwide. Napster will pick up the $1.8 million tour tab. “Nowadays you can go on Napster
and hear the Limp Bizkit single,” said Fred Durst, the band’s singer. “If you like it, go get it. It’s a
cool way to make sure your sixteen dollars are being spent well” (Cohen, par.5 ). After Limp
Bizkit’s Napster tour was over, their album sales went up by seventeen percent (Cohen, par.6).
This shows that Napster’s huge popularity can be used successfully to promote an upcoming
Another artist that sees this new trend and supports it is rapper Chuck D. He thinks:
It’s among the most positive developments ever for musicians. It will expose
more music to more people, because artists won’t have to fight the big record labels for space in stores. By shrinking the power of the middlemen, musicians
will keep more of the proceeds from the sale of their record, which right now is
about one dollar per CD (Vogelstein, par.3).
I think Chuck D. is right in saying that Napster is better for musicians because the record
labels are making most of the profit from the albums. If the artists were to somehow use Napster
to eliminate that middleman than they would be able to make a lot more money. He also believes
that Napster will increase album sales:
I just go by logic that people will want to hear something before they buy it. If I
got turned on by an artist after I heard something for free, I would go out and buy
it. That’s too logical for people in the music industry to understand.
Other people don’t agree with Chuck D. They believe that Napster has a negative affect
on album sales. This point can be seen through a conversation I had with my friend Cindy, who
likes the Backstreet Boys, Creed and Savage Garden. “I haven’t bought a CD in two years,” she
says. Whenever she hears a song she likes, she tells her friend to “burn” her a copy of the CD she
wants. The music industry has lived in fear that there are thousands of people like Cindy, costing
them millions of dollars.
My friend Alex, a student at Stony Brook University, is another example. He downloaded
music by Limp Bizkit, the Dave Matthews Band and others until his university blocked access to
Napster. “I buy less,” he said. “There’s no point to buying it if you can just download it.” A study
by Reciprocal Inc. found that sales of recorded music near college campuses declined by four
percent between the first three months of 1998 and the same period this year. Sales at all stores
went up twelve percent during the same time. The same study also indicated that, the more songs that Napster users download, the more likely they are to cut back on music purchases. Even
though sales overall went up, the music industry still contends that the study by Reciprocal Inc.
shows how file sharing can cut into sales. This study was used as evidence in court papers by The
Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in it’s lawsuit against Napster.
The RIAA’s worst fear is that people will eventually stop buying albums because of this
free alternative. They think that because Napster introduced this service at no cost, it will be
hard to convince people to go out and pay for the albums. When Metallica decided to sue
Napster, many of their fans became angry at them. “I don’t see why Metallica and the others are
mad,” Alex said. “They’re still making tons of money.”
“Obviously, the fans are feeling alienated,” said Noah Stone, a singer-songwriter who
formed Artists Against Piracy to fight against Napster. “There’s no question about that, but the
message needs to be clarified. This is about a company that co-opted other people’s copyrights,
and they intended to profit from them without compensating the people who owned the
copyrights”(Hansen, par.5). Even though Mr. Stone may be right, the industry can’t ignore the
clear message from fans that they want to get music quickly and easily through the Internet. “The
race is on to find a solution,” Stone said.
The musician Prince suggests:
Poor treatment of fans has left record companies with little reservoir of good will.
All they care about is that kids on the Internet are downloading MP3’s of the one
hit song on the latest crappy release they put out with a huge promotional
campaign, hoping to sell two million copies of the album, when there is actually
only one decent song on it. They don’t care about copyright infringement. They
only care about lost sales (Vogelstein, par.6).
RIAA chief executive Hilary Rosen said that :
Unauthorized file swapping allowed by Napster is wrong whether or not it can be
ultimately proven to cause economic harm. I don’t think it matters at all whether
we’ve been economically hurt. I think that if I own my shirt and you borrow it, it
doesn’t matter whether or not I have another shirt. You’re just not entitled to
borrow it without my permission. And if you have a copyright asset, that is the
principle of copyright that you get to control and own your own work, and other
people don’t get to profit from it without your permission (Cohen, par.2).
The RIAA says that such theft costs the United States recording industry at least $300
million a year in lost sales. Metallica’s drummer Lars Ulrich says “It’s sickening to know that our
art is being traded like a commodity rather than the art that it is” (Cohen, par.4).
I think the idea that money is not the issue here, is bogus. Music executives want us
to believe that it’s the principle of stealing another person’s art is what’s on trial. The only reason
they care about the copyright is because they could lose money from a drop in record sales. For
them, the Napster law suit has everything to do with money and nothing to do with principle.
I believe that the best way to end this debate is by some sort of compromise. As a Napster
user myself, I think that it’s great that I don’t have to spend money on CD’s. The only problem is
that, if I were an artist, and people were getting my work for free, I would feel exactly the same
way Metallica and Dr. Dre feel. That’s why the record labels, artists, and Napster need to find a
solution that would please everybody. The best idea that I could come up with is a monthly bill
for downloading music from Napster. That way, everybody that’s involved in the lawsuit would
make money, because that’s what its really about.
There’s only one problem with that idea, but it can be overcome. Because people are now
used to getting Napster for free, they might be reluctant to subscribe to this service. I think that
those people will eventually change their minds when they realize what they are missing. Ric
Dube, an analyst with Webnoize, an entertainment industry research group, captures the idea
best. He says, “If for fifteen dollars a month you could download all the music you wanted, chat
with your favorite stars, and get first dibs on concert tickets, you’d pay for that, wouldn’t you”