In June 2001, as Napster said goodbye, Apple launched iTunes. In essence, a pay-version of the Napster concept. In 2012, iTunes is approaching 20 billion songs sold. That’s at $1 a song. That’s also in an era where users are actually choosing to pay, rather than downloading for free. Imagine what kind of business iTunes would be doing if the latter option didn’t exist. Imagine the kind of business Napster would be doing if that settlement had been struck. Oh, and for the record, the industry takes 66% of the iTunes cut. They would have taken 100% of Napster.
From its infancy to its death, Napster lasted two years. In that time, it attracted over 26 million users. That was before wi-fi, iPods and smart phones. To draw a comparison, Facebook had 5.5 million users after two years. It has 845 million million today. Simply stated, the potential for Napster’s growth was almost immeasurable. If Facebook could do that in a market already tapped by Myspace and Friendster, what could Napster have done with a monopoly?
That brings us to today. Shawn Fanning still programs and invests. In 2009, his net-worth was valued at $7.5 million. It’s less now. His friend Sean Parker (you know, the guy erroneously painted as Mr. Napster in The Social Network) is worth $2.1 billion. As for Mark Zuckerberg? $17.5 billion. Imagine what could have been.
Ultimately, in our collective memory, Napster will never rival or surpass Facebook. And maybe it’s not fair to suggest that it should. But while I don’t remember my first Facebook friend, I do recall downloading “The Safety Dance” and starting my first music library. I guess, for certain things in life, there’s just something about your first time.
And really, that’s what Napster was all about. Your first time for something. Whether it was your first mix CD, your first breakup soundtrack, or your first exposure to the band that ended up getting you through high school, Napster gave something to all of us. And because of that, in some way, it will always be tied to growing up.
So what was the first song you downloaded on Napster? E-mail me. I’d love to know. But I have to go now. My downloads are finished.