The Digital Beat: Pawning the Napster Dream

March 26, 2001 12:00 AM ET

Rip. Mix. Burn. These are the buzzwords for the new iMac campaign from Apple. You can see it on billboards around the country. There's a shiny, happy picture of a flowery new Apple computer next to what is essentially a battle cry for Generation N. Yes, Napster.

Apple is the first company to build an ad campaign on the Napster hype. It might seem good for business, but in the end, it's disingenuous and, worse, damaging in what it purports. It's time for Apple -- and other companies looking to sell the digital music dream -- to get real or get off the bandwagon.

I mean, come on: Rip, Mix, Burn? What a crock. Who buys a computer to rip (read: convert) their CD songs into MP3 files? Not many people other than hardcore geeks. Apple's ad is clearly going for the jugular for the millions of people who compulsively downloaded new tunes from Napster, tunes they want to play on their car and home stereos. Apple's approach is kind of like a head shop selling bongs "for tobacco use only." What good is a hookah without the ganja?

Apple isn't the only company pawning the Napster dream. Intel, Sony, and even IBM have all been heavily promoting products built around the quick and fast pleasures of digital music. But none of them are copping to the fact that the digital music everyone wants is all the illegal stuff. This is just plain hypocritical. Here you've got these major corporations trying to shut down Napster while others are pawning warez that really only appeal to bootleggers.

What are the ill effects of all this? The consumer -- and I'm talking about the newbie, not the skate punks -- gets confused about what digital music really is like online. The ads suggest that digital music is fun, easy and interesting. In reality, it's challenging, technical and often mundane. Beyond Napster, online music still takes a degree of willfulness on the part of the consumer. Someone has to actively seek out the music. It's not just plug n' play. And the music that really is plug n' play is often by unknown bands that most people could care less about in the first place.

In the long run, companies selling MP3 hardware are going to need the music industry to deliver a fun, easy and interesting content for the average consumers. That means that the RIAA and friends will have to accept the fact that ripping, mixing and burning is here to stay. And that the Napster economy is a part of life. Instead of trying to shut the movement down, they need to get hip, come clean and give the people what they want.

Ultimately, the Apple could further stoke this flame under the music executives' hard drives. But if/when Napster goes down, Apple and the rest might have to answer to consumers with nothing to burn but their receipts.

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