You can't stop the music

In the last few months, unless you were sipping pina coladas in a tropical hideaway, you would be pretty hard pressed to have missed the storm over Napster. We have been inun-dated with updates on the law-suits, appeals, piracy and copy-right issues surrounding file sharing, particularly MP3s. And while Napster fights for its survival in the US courts, other contenders are stepping up to the plate.

Gnutella's Web site drew 30,000 unique visitors within an hour of the US injunction against Napster in late July. According to Gnutella, its site numbers jumped to 1.2 million hits in 24 hours and peaked at 75,000 hits an hour during the last few days of July. The site also crashed for several hours under the burden of the extra traffic. And while MP3 download fans were keen to keep downloading, an array of Napster and Gnutella clones were springing up, with names such as Bodtella, MyTella, GnuCache, Gnucleus, and Gnotella.

This month PC World looks beyond Napster to see what is available on the file-sharing horizon, and we review more than ten programs. But not everyone wants to follow in Napster's footsteps. GlobalScape voluntarily closed its CuteMX file exchange network following the Napster injunction, the company expecting the network could easily be named in a lawsuit. GlobalScape is simply taking a "wait and see" attitude. With its program CuteFTP as one of the most popular file-transfer programs on-line, the company may stand to lose a lot in a lawsuit.

It has been interesting to note in the last few months, since Napster came to light in the mainstream media, how much attention this previously and relatively unknown file sharing program has garnered. Not just for itself, but for the Internet in general. To be honest, I don't think the wider community thought that the Internet held that much interest. Sure, they'd surfed to a few sites, had a few favourites, but nothing that really grabbed their attention.

Besides - if you ever really wanted anything online you had to pay for it. And we all know that consumers in general are reluctant to cough up online. Selling the Internet's e-commerce attributes is still an ongoing and somewhat uphill battle for most e-traders. Part of the push for e-commerce is getting the punters online and looking in the first place. Making consumers feel at ease with looking, purchasing and even downloading online is in reality quite difficult, especially for newbies.

For the music industry, Napster has made a lot of people look at the online medium afresh. People are pointing and clicking, and surfing with purpose, and all looking for music.

A recent news article in The Industry Standard (published by IDG Communications, PC World's publisher), indicates that Napster, and other file sharing software, may be more of a marketing tool than a replacement for CD buying. According to Jupiter Communications (an Internet commerce research company), Napster users are more likely to purchase music both online and offline.

Jupiter conducted a survey that revealed Napster users are 45 per cent more likely to purchase music not because they are music aficionados, but because Napster itself is a catalyst for sales. "Other than existing levels of music spending, Napster [use] was the greatest predictor of music spending," remarked Jupiter analyst Mike Saxon.

Jupiter isn't the only one who thinks Napster and its imitators may be good for driving the online music business. Cyber Dialogue reports that adults going online to access music-related content increased 48 per cent from December to March. People are flocking to music sites and they're spending money - the average music user spends $US610 online annually, compared to the $US509 spent by the average adult online. Not many sites would baulk at that sort of inflow of mullah. Ten out of ten to Napster for driving business online.

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Amanda Conroy

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