The large music labels today received a three-pronged reminder of what could have been.
First off, EMI and Bertelsmann settled a long-running dispute over Bertelsmann's investment in the naughty Napster – aka the Napster people used. Neither party released details about their arrangement, but, as a point of reference, Bertelsmann settled last year with Universal over a similar Napster matter for $60m.
Bertelsmann escaped admitting liability in both cases.
The labels were upset with Bertelsman's investment of close to $100m in the old Napster, claiming that the media giant helped the P2P site and its users infringe on their tunes.
As you all know, the naughty Napster was scrapped in favor of a new, much less successful legal Napster, which brings us to the two other items.
Desperate times demanding desperate measures, Napster has teamed with AT&T to give away access to its music service. AT&T customers will receive free, fettered access to Napster's To Go service – a $180 “value” we're told. The program will cover PCs, cell phones and music players, excluding the iPod.
“This move further blurs the line between communications and entertainment as well as wireless and wireline services,” the companies bragged.
It also blurs the already drunk line around what constitutes a music service business model these days.
The AT&T service goes live April 1.
All you have to do to get the $180 value is shell out for a two-year wireless agreement on Samsung's SYNC or BlackJack phones, while also agreeing to the data plan and a Music Kit/Card.
Elsewhere in the phone kingdom, Sprint Nextel has moved to cut its per song download price to 99 cents in a bid to become competitive with iTunes. That's quite the discount from the unrealistic $2.49 per song Sprint had been charging. Sprint managed to sell all of 15 million songs over the past 18 months under its previous wallet-busting plan.
Ah, if only the music labels had joined forces around Napster instead of suing the company into oblivion. They might have had actual online businesses of their own now. ®