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Podcasting With Napster

We don't write a lot of technical, how-to articles here at The Speculist. But the iTunes podcasting story has been big enough news in the last couple of weeks to change that.

Really, it's an old story. Apple innovates, but on exclusive hardware. The open source guys follow later and then dominate the market. On this well-worn timeline, Apple has just innovated in a big way (with podcasting this time), and everybody else is reeling from this development and will now be working hard to catch up.

The Apple iPod/iTunes combo has a lot going for it. The iPod itself remains the best-designed MP3 player. And iTunes is the only legal music service that currently integrates podcasting. It is the only program that does all things podcasting - subscription, management, playing (if you want to listen at your computer), AND move the content to your MP3 player - as long as your MP3 player is an iPod.

Apple is also lining up some good exclusive content - including NPR shows like "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered."

So, why don't I just go buy an iPod and use iTunes? Because the Apple business model is inferior to Napster. If an iTunes user likes the latest Coldplay album, they will have to pay either $.99 per song, or pay a per album cost.

With Napster - which is now quite legal - you pay a monthly subscription of $15 ($10 if you are going to do all your listening at your computer) and you can download most music straight to your MP3 player with no additional charges. Those few songs Napster couldn't get on their musical buffet are offered at the iTunes rate of $.99.

The digital music player has to be compatible with Napster because every time you log on to Napster with your player, it reports your listening back to Napster. Napster then compensates the record companies and artists accordingly.

Bottom line: To fill an MP3 player with music today - and variety is what I want - I could spend $1000 for 1000 songs over at iTunes, or $15 per month at Napster. I'm going with Napster.

Now some might protest that, in 5 ½ years I'm going to pay Napster $1000 anyway. Won't I, after 5 ½ years, be paying more for music than iTunes people?

I'll spare you the whole time-value of money thing, but consider this - during this 5½ years I will have recycled my 1000 songs many times. I'm not married to the same 1000 tunes. I'm free to find out if Jazz is my thing, or country, or whatever. I don't listen to the same music today that I did half a decade ago. My tastes have changed, and music marches on too.

Anyway, I feel like this has become a big Napster commercial, so I'll move on. My purpose is to show Napster users how to listen to podcasting on Napster-compatible players. In a year this article will probably be outdated. By then, hopefully, Napster will also have fully integrated podcasting. But until they get around to doing that, here's what you do...

First, go to download.com and get a free podcast receiver program like iPodder.

The rest of these directions assume you are using iPodder, but you can probably adapt this to other podcast receiver programs.

Set up your program to download podcasts to a convenient directory like "c:\podcasts." Do this by clicking "File" then "Preferences," then type your desired directory on the "General" tab.

Make sure to enable the scheduler to download new podcasts at the intervals you desire. Click on "Tools" and then "Scheduler" to do this.

Subscribe to some podcasts (may I suggest Fast Forward Radio?) and then forget about iPodder. Just let it run in the background. When you kill iPodder it will ask if you want it to run in the background. You do. You'll see iPodder's lemon icon down on the task bar working away, but you'll only have to open that program to change your subscriptions.

Now, after iPodder has downloaded some podcasts, open Napster. Go to the library and create a new playlist called "podcasts."

Now, import the podcast MP3s into Napster. In Napster click on "File" and then "Import Files" and then browse to your "c:\podcasts" directory. iPodder puts each podcast subscription in its own subdirectory. This would be a big hassle were it not for Napster's "search subdirectories" checkbox. Check that box and all the podcast MP3s will appear at your right. Click the "select all" button and then import all the podcast MP3s into Napster.

Napster will ask if you want to edit the info on these files. I never do. Instead, go to the top of your library and organize by "type." Just click "type" (meaning file type) and all the MP3s will now be grouped together at the bottom of the library. Now, highlight all the MP3s by holding down the Ctrl key as you left click the MP3 files. Once highlighted, right click on the highlighted files and add them to the "podcast" playlist.

Now, with your Napster compatible player attached and ready, go to the "podcast" playlist on the left and drag it to the "Napster To Go" field on the bottom right of your screen. This creates the "podcast" playlist on your MP3 player and copies the podcasts over. You'll never have to drag that playlist to the "Napster To Go" field again. It will be handled automatically.

Enjoy listening to podcasts on your MP3 player.

Podcasts will tend to have a shorter useful life on your MP3 player than music files. You'll typically listen to a podcast once, maybe twice, and be done with it. So you'll soon be ready to both get rid of the ones you have on your player and get some new ones.

No problem. In Napster, open the "podcast" playlist and select all the podcasts you're tired of - maybe all of them. When you delete them Napster will give you the option of deleting them from your hard drive. Do that.

Import new podcasts into Napster as you did the first time. Since you deleted the old stuff off the hard drive, the "c:\podcasts" directory should only have new podcasts and the podcasts you weren't ready to delete.

Rinse and repeat as needed.

This is a bit more complicated than the integrated iTunes approach. But once you've done this a couple of times you'll be doing it in seconds. And, I think this is a short-term problem anyway. Either Napster is going to integrated podcasts, or Apple will win over we Napster listeners with an all-you-can-eat subscription service.

Either way, we'll be set.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Podcasting With Napster:

» iDisagree from Punditish
I use Napster, and am quite pleased with it. It fills a much-needed role in the growing world of legitimate online music purchases. However, Gordon is leaving out a vitally important caveat: you lose access to the music you've downloaded if you stop pa... [Read More]

» Napster vs. Itunes from LightFrog Blog
The speculist makes a compelling case for Napster vs. ITUNES for music. My nephew says Yahoo is better than both. Me I like 45's And yes the hat tip belongs to Glenn... [Read More]

» (Not Really) Peas in a Pod from Alpine Summit
I'm no apple fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I've been warming up to them; and if my iPod is any indication, I should expect great things from them in the future. [Read More]


Why not use Yahoo Music Engine, then? If you pre-pay for one year, it's only $5/month. Much cheaper than Napster, plays on exactly the same devices (PlaysForSure), and the same--if not better--song selection?

I'm a dedicated iPod/Mac guy. I wouldn't touch Napster with a ten-foot pole, and here's why: it's the difference between owning and renting. I grant you that music tastes change over time; mine certainly have. But when I buy a CD or buy a tune from iTunes, it's because it's music that I want to have and keep for the long-term. If I want variety, I'll listen to FM/XM/RadioIO. But the music I carry around in my iPod (~22 GB) is music that I know I want both today and tomorrow.

And if I've filled my MP3 player via Napster and one day quit paying them $15 a month, POOF! It's gone.

Not to mention that Napster doesn't strike me as the most stable of business models. Remember the DivX DVD players (not the DivX codecs, the players)? DivX was supposed to be the next wonder for DVD so that you could rent movies, watch them a few times, and then poof it's gone. That worked well -- people decided to buy movies rather than use DivX, and if they wanted to rent a movie instead, they'd use Netflix. DivX became a dodo.

To each his own, of course. Nice article, though I do disagree.

And if Napster goes belly-up in 5 and a half years (which there is a rather large chance of happening), every single track you've ever bought becomes totally worthless. (Unless, of course, you've paid $.99 just like iTunes users...)

Basically, Napster has your music at gunpoint - they retain the rights to arbitrarily raise the cost of listening to music you've already paid for, and you're entirely dependent on them staying in business to keep your music library. At least with iTunes you've the option of burning your purchased tracks to CDs that play in any CD player.

There's a very good reason why Napster's subscription model hasn't caught on - because the second you stop paying that $15/month your music goes away, whereas the songs an iPod user paid for can be burned to a CD and will still play without having to authenticate with some system that may or may not exist in the future.


I'm not sold yet, persuasive as this is. But I may be coming around. Anyway, I still say Napster was more fun when it was illegal.

But, correct me if I'm wrong, but Napster music doesn't work on the MP3 player with around 85% market share (i.e., the iPod).

Also, I'd rather pay the 0.99 and be able to keep the song, rather than losing access to all my music as soon as I stop paying Napster/their company goes under.

However, if those things don't bother you, as they obviously don't seem to, then perhaps Napster will work out better for you. But I don't think you should say Apple's business model is "inferior", just "different". Or maybe "inferior *for you*". Napster's model is inferior in my view, but I realise it might work better for people who listen to music differently than I do.

I may be confused, but you are talking about two different things - podcasts (which are free through iTunes) and buying vs. renting music. Certainly, renting is a better option for people who don't stick to anything for a long time. I prefer to buy, personally. I still love some of the same albums I did 10 years ago.

As a person who has owned two other MP3 players before owning an iPod, your model is only valid under the following conditions:
1) You don't own many of your own CD's already
2) You don't mind NOT OWNING the music your paying for
3) To live under this model, you'll have to keep paying Napster for the rest of your life.

To elaborate:
1) I own over 500 CD's so the vast majority of music on my iPod comes from my own collection, or CD's I've borrowed from friends, the library, etc. Rip your own music baby!
2) Any songs I purchase via iTunes, I OWN regardless of whether I purchase another song from Apple
3) I don't have to purchase songs from the iTunes Store, ergo my cost is zero

Bottom Line: I get to use the finest MP3 player in existence, with the music I love. I've looked into Napster and Rhapsody, I don't like the monthly payment paradigm. I prefer pay as you go.

I'm not really sold on any digital music selling point that involves DRM. Give me a CD anyday, and I'd rather rip the music myself (I'm one of the iPod cult). I'm especially not enamored with a model that involves RENTING music. What's the point? I don't care if you get access to thousands of tracks, I have just over 6200 mp3s (from 565 CDs), and I have problems listening to all of it in a years time. From my point of view, it's just not worth it.


You're not wrong. Napster doesn't work with the iPod. In fact, Napster To Go compatibility can be found on only a handful of MP3 players at present. It's a pretty new system. But I expect that many more MP3 players (that aren't iPods) will be Napster To Go compatible in the future.

It's not so much that I'm renting music. Renting would be per-song too. Instead, I'm buying the right, month to month, to listen to as much music as I like in that month.

Actually, the Napster model is a lot like radio in a way. Radio stations also pay record companies (I believe) per play. Here, though, record companies have an opportunity to earn some per-play revenue on non-singles - songs that would rarely be played on a radio station.


I am talking about two things - music and podcasting. I don't want to commit to the iTunes model, even though they have a clearly superior podcasting system, because of their $.99 per song cost. So this article, in part, is about finding a way to listen to podcasts via the Napster system.

Epoh, Ray, and jhallum:

You can bring all your CD music into Napster also (free) - and then on to your Napster To Go player.

You know, though, I haven't even bothered to burn my CDs lately. My CDs are already in the Napster library. With my broadband connection it takes less time to download from their holdings to my player than from my CD to my player.


The iPod is the best player - no doubt. But I like the freedom to explore that Napster allows. I can download whole albums and listen at my leisure. If it turns out that Pat Boone sings Kiss isn't as great as I thought, well, I'm not out a thing.

Count me with Ray on this one. My collection of CDs is absolutely huge (it was well over 700 at last count), and I've made a number of purchases of songs on iTunes Music Store. Only one of those was an album--the rest were singles for which I didn't want the full CD.

So, for me to fill up an iPod is no big trick, most months I don't spend anything on downloaded music, and I purchase a few CDs. With Napster, my costs would rise because I have to maintain a subscription to continue listening to any music that I download through the service, but it wouldn't change my CD buying habits.

For you, Napster may have the better model, but for me iTMS is a great fit. Add to that the beautifully integrated experience and it really is hard to beat with other current competition. That isn't to say that they won't be overtaken (although they've got a hell of a long way to lose their edge in the market), but that at this moment the iTMS experience sets the standard.

If I want to add a subscription service, I'll be looking at XM radio--and if Apple managed to swing a deal that would allow iPods to act as XM recievers, that would make my life even better.


Great idea - making the iPod an XM radio receiver. That might win me over too.

Most of you are missing the point, I don't have 500 CD's, or even anything like that. AND, I don't want to have to shell out $18 to see if the new Anna Nalick/Coldplay/Foo Fighters/blah... is really something I want to own.

In fact, I NEVER really have to own it.

Think of it as paying $9.99 to be in a jelly of the month club. But with really great jelly. You have to pay for the whole jar and keep it even if you don't like it, I get to taste a bite, screw the cap back on, and set it back onto the shelf. I can then come back later and taste some more, spread it on some toast, and rub all over my body while dancing a jig, and I still only paid $9.99. I can then get about 500 jellys, rub them all over a Microdrive, and you would have had to pay $500, while I'm still paying $9.99.

Do I complain about not "owning" the Cable programs that come into my home? NO. Why would I complain about essentially paying $10 to run my own radio station from my PC?

Now I just need to shell out $250 for a player. But id have to do that with iTunes anyways...

As others have noted, if you have a whole lot of CD's already (and continue to buy some) the iPod works perfectly.

I also buy some music from ITMS, but I am paying more like $.75 a song since I usually buy whole albums or compilations (at around 15+ songs for $10).

Personally I can't stand the thought of not really owning any music at all. What happens if Napster goes belly-up? The Windows media music market is a crowded field with not much space, and the first wave of bankruptcies are going to create a wave of abandonment when consumers realize what it means to not really own music. I mean Microsoft is coming into the space, how long with Napster last against them? I guess then you just change who you are paying your $15 a month to, but it seems a lot of hassle to find all the songs you like again.

I admire the effort to help get people set up with podcasts on no iPod players, but I just think people should really think about the implications of not owning media they enjoy before they make choices about players or stores.

Ok...for those of you who are STILL not getting the Napster-to-Go Model, here we go:

1) You pay Napster a monthly fee. With this monthly fee, you can download as much music as you can hold on your MP3 player without having to pay the $.99 per song. You cannot burn any CDs with this music, but you can listen to anything you want. Kind of a "try it before you buy it" option.

2) For those who still prefer to purchase tracks so that they "own" them and burn CDs, you can elect to buy tracks from Napster for $.99 per song, or $9.95 for most albums. When you buy the tracks or albums, you own them. You can download them to your MP3 player, burn CDs, etc. They are stored on your computer, and you can do pretty much do anything with them.

3) If you cancel Napster service, you still own the tracks for which you paid. You just can't listen to any of the non-purchased tracks any longer.

Napster is, for this reason, a much better option than iTunes. I prefer the "try it before you buy it" option. I buy want I REALLY want to keep.

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