College students and an all-you-can-listen-to music buffet. Sounds like a match made in heaven, right? That’s what music services like Napster were hoping a few years ago when they began signing contracts with colleges and universities to make their services available to students. Unfortunately for schools and the download services, it hasn’t worked out that way.
Currently, over 120 schools have deals with the likes of Rhapsody and Napster under which students have access to the services’ music libraries, often for a fraction of the regular price, if not free. However, many undergrads are turning their noses up at the opportunity to use the legal download services. Cornell student Angelo Petrigh decided not to use Napster, which inked an agreement with the Ivy League school, because he won’t be able to take the music with him when he graduates. "After I read that, I decided I didn’t want to even try it," he said.
Petrigh’s experience is echoed on other campuses, to the point that Purdue University is joining Cornell in deciding not to renew their deals with Napster. One barrier is the subscription-based nature of the service. The reason Petrigh can’t take the music with him is that the DRM used in Napster’s subscription service renders the songs unplayable once the subscription lapses. The alternative is continuing to pay for a subscription after graduation, or forking over 99¢ for each track you want to keep.
The other big problem for the schools (and music download services) is the 800lb gorilla of the online music scene, Apple. The iPod rules the digital music player scene, and once students discover that their shiny white (or black) iPods they received as graduation presents don’t work with the school’s official download service, they don’t bother with them. And the roughly 19 percent of college students who own Macs are completely out of luck.
Despite the students’ lack of enthusiasm, the RIAA is pleased with the services. "Universities tend to move not all that quick [sic] to do things like this, so it’s really quite an achievement," says RIAA President Cary Sherman.
When we reported on the first of the deals back in September 2003, we noted that the schools were driven in no small part by fear of the RIAA and in particular, the possibility of lawsuits. We were also critical of how the services were funded. In many cases, the services’ fees are buried under the catch-all "activity fees" that many of us remember oh-so-fondly. In the case of students who use Linux, Macs, or iPods and are therefore unable to avail themselves of the college-approved music services, it forces them to pay for a service they cannot use.
Are the college-music service deals doomed? Maybe not, but they are definitely on the endangered list. The fact is, many students are unimpressed by the idea of free or reduced-cost access to university-approved music services. As a result, more colleges and universities will be cutting ties with the music services.