Napster today announced a free tier of service that enables consumers to listen to a song five times before asking them to pony up for the subscription service. This will go a long way to boosting Napster's mindshare. Indeed, while much attention has been focused on which company will be the Flickr of video, Napster now has an opportunity to become a sort of Flickr for music, that is, a blog-friendly (if not yet tag-friendly) resource that enables consumers to share music in a legal way that embraces the spirit of its original namesake; this has groundbreaking promotional value.
Its new free service not only steals much of the thunder from Yahoo! Music as a source for sampling, but one-ups that service with easy Web accessibility and even Mac support. Alas, though, Napster needs to close the gap between its limited free service and its full service. Creating even one middle tier of service that lacked downloads to portable devices — useless to most of the market at this point anyway — would help reinforce the psychological groundwork that Napster is now laying with its advertising and free access, that you can enjoy access to on-demand music without having to own it.