Webnoize: Napster downloads drop 36 per cent in April

For the month, Napster users downloaded 1.59 billion files, down from 2.49 billion in March and even further removed from February's total of 2.79 billion. Fewer files are being traded because fewer files are available on Napster's service, Webnoize said. In March, the average Napster user was sharing 220 files, but that number has plummeted to only 37, stopping briefly at 74 in mid-March.

As the number of files available on the system drops, so too does the number of users. Napster had 1.06 million users in April, down 17 percent from March and 32 percent from February, Webnoize said. These numbers contrast sharply with Napster's own figures, which have run as high as 57 million users.

The number of files available on Napster's peer-to-peer file trading network has steadily declined since a federal judge forced the company to filter copyrighted music. Napster and its nemesis, the Recording Industry Association of America Inc. (RIAA), have traded legal filings back and forth in the intervening weeks, with both sides arguing that the other is either too eager, or not eager enough, to remove copyrighted material from the service.

Napster is planning to launch a secure, copyright-friendly, subscription-based service later in the year, with its partner Bertelsmann, the parent company of BMG Entertainment, one of the companies suing Napster. Though Bertelsmann has said that the service will be ready by July, Napster officials have indicated that the end of the year may be a more realistic date. Napster's current challenge is to keep its service up and running and maintain its momentum until that service can be launched, according to Matt Bailey, a senior analyst with Webnoize.

Napster has been able to maintain its momentum because there are no compelling alternatives, Bailey said. Though there are some systems offering similar capabilities, they often lack Napster-grade participation, and thus cannot provide a comparable number of files.

"These (systems) aren't up to the task of replacing Napster," Bailey said.

They may not need to be, though. As Napster continues to filter files, the amount of content available will continue to drop, Bailey said. Eventually, it "will become almost impossible to get mainstream content over Napster," he said, which will lead to disenchanted users. Those users will likely stop using Napster, he said, adding that he expects many users to reach that point within two to three months.

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