In the not-too-distant future, the Napster brand and the iconic logo will disappear. Rhapsody announced plans on Monday to acquire the once-disruptive music service from Best Buy for an undisclosed amount, and after the deal closes on November 30, a Rhapsody spokesperson said that “the Seattle company plans to re-brand Napster under the Rhapsody name.” As the company’s president Jon Irwin said in a statement, Rhapsody is really only interested in two things: “There’s substantial value in bringing Napster’s subscribers and robust IP portfolio to Rhapsody as we execute on our strategy to expand our business via direct acquisition of members and distribution deals.”
This isn’t the first time that the Napster brand and cat-wearing-headphones logo has disappeared, but it’s likely the last. As such, it represents the end of an era that was really supposed to end a while ago. Elizabeth Brooks, who worked under founders Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker as the company’s former head of marketing, explains the background to the logo in a Quora post:
The logo was created by a friend of Shawn’s early in the company’s history. The logo was intended to be a cat partly as a response to Lycos using a dog in their advertising at the time. (Lycos was a preferred way to search for mp3s prior to the Napster program and other P2P initiatives.) Some people seemed to think the logo was a devil, so small changes were done to the logo in order to make it slightly less “devilish”
Following an intense series of legal battles in 2000, the company shut down its service in 2001 and declared bankruptcy in 2002. After being reintroduced in 2003 as a paid subscription service, Napster’s brand was passed around a number of companies before finally being purchased by Best Buy in 2008 for $121 million.
As Irwin says, Napster is now pretty much useful only for its patents and its users. At this point, it’s not immediately clear how many of either Rhapsody will gain with the Napster acquisition. When Best Buy bought Napster in 2008, the service had 700,000 subscribers, and The New York Timesestimates that number could be down to “an estimated 300,000 to 400,000.” When added to the 800,000 paying subscribers, the new pack is bigger but nowhere close to Spotify’s 10 million. According to PC World, more than 80 million users downloaded and signed on to Napster–clicking that little cat log–on a daily basis at its peak in February 2001. Of course, it was totally free and totally illegal at that point in time.