Traffic surges at Napster

Napster's recent and well-publicised legal troubles are probably scaring people away from the Web site that offers up the free music-swapping technology, right? Not exactly.

          Napster's recent and well-publicised legal troubles are probably scaring people away from the Web site that offers up the free music-swapping technology, right? Not exactly. The Napster Web site has experienced a surge in traffic in recent months. So take that, Metallica.

          According to a NetValue study released this week, the controversial music distribution site logged about 3 million unique visitors in the month of May.

          That's up a staggering 1.4 million from April (1.6 million), and completely dwarfs the site's 524,000 unique visitors in February, says Meaghan FitzGerald, associate research director at NetValue.

          People don't seem worried about the possible legal ramifications of using Napster's software, FitzGerald says. Computer users want the latest music and technology, and Napster is finding increased success despite the negative buzz generated by an ongoing suit filed by the Recording Industry Association of America.

          Add It Up

          NetValue began tracking Web site traffic in the United States in February. It compiles its figures through a formula that includes a large panel of randomly selected Web surfers combined with numerous phone surveys.

          By these means, NetValue can drill down and offer even more telling statistics about the Napster Web site's visitor population.

          For example, 35 percent of Napster's visitors fall in the 15- to 24-year-old age group. That's impressive because that age group only makes up 19% of the total online population of the United States, FitzGerald says. Another 28% of Napster's visitors are in the 25- to 34-year-old age group. Those are impressive demographics should the site ever decide to sell space to advertisers.

          Even more telling is that 40% of the site's total visitors are students. That number undoubtedly includes numerous high-school students, but many are college students. They're getting through despite efforts by many colleges to prevent students from using school PCs and networks to swap songs via Napster.

          A Little Perspective

          Napster's 3 million unique visitors in one month is an impressive feat, but it's helpful to view it in context. In May 2000, Napster.com was ranked the 119th most-visited site. The most visited site was Yahoo, with 48.8 million unique visitors. Number two was AOL.com, with 41.5 million.

          Compared to those goliaths, Napster's numbers look meager. But it holds its own with other music-related sites. For example, music seller CDNow's CDnow.com garnered 3.2 million visitors during May, MP3.com netted 2.6 million, and Sonicnet.com drew 1.3 million. In all, Napster's 3 million visitors indicates about 3.6% of the online population of the United States hit the site during the month.

          FitzGerald sees Napster's ever-increasing Web traffic as a clear sign. "Eventually the recording industry will have to accept Napster," she says. Whether it's Napster or something comparable, technology won't stop just because the record labels don't like it, she says.

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