Today's Wall Street Journal (online subscription required) has an article in the Marketplace section by Nick Timiraos entitled "Free, Legal and Ignored." The article focuses on the new Napster in the university environment and the effort of universities to provide free access to music via Napster and other authorized services. Universities' interest in providing such services is not altruistic or pampering: they want to avoid lawsuits and preserve bandwith: at Vanderbilt University, a university official is quoting as saying the school saved $75,000 a year in network costs by providing the new Napster.
Still, according to the article, the response of students has been underwhelming, with some colleges dropping the service. The reasons for students' lack of interest vary; some programs do not permit retention of downloads after graduation: one student is quoted as saying "After I read that, I decided I didn't even want to try [the service]." Another student is quoted as saying "People still want to have a music collection. Music listeners like owning their music, not renting," a quaint sentiment considering how ownership usually comes about in such situations.
And then there is the 19% penetration of Macs and the 42% penetration of iPods. The chief information at Case Western Reserve University is quoted as saying "We were not in a position to offer an alternative to iTunes. The alternatives looked like they had more sizzle than steak." So maybe people will buy, after all, if the product is right. Indeed, today's Hollywood Reporter (p.6), reports "Looking at the entire sales picture - comprising physical albums, digital albums and digital tracks - overall sales to date this year have actually gained about one-tenth of a percentage point over the first six months of '05." Physical albums are reported to have dropped 12 million units, digital albums increased 8.2 million units, and digital tracks gained a whopping 122 million units, perhaps indicating the wave of the future.
Given the use of statistics in the Napster litigation on CD buying patterns in university areas, it might be interesting to conduct studies of universities which offered such services but then stopped.