The nice thing about living in Tokyo is that, in order to be updated about all things tech, you just have to take the train. Yesterday for instance, the Yamanote line train cars taught me that Napster (this one, not the legacy one) has opened a Japanese version of its online store in the beginning of October (totally missed that as I was in Belgium then). This is a noteworthy development, because of a number of reasons:
First of all, Napster.jp is the first flat rate all-you-can-download music service in Japan. And to be honest, the rate isn’t that bad: 1280¥/month is quite affordable. Of course, if you can live with the fact that, after a year and 15360¥ spent, you own exactly 0 songs…
Also important: Tower Records might be dead in the US, but as you see on the picture I took, it’s alive and well in Japan: “Napster x Tower Records,” reads the poster.
And of course, DRM ahoy! Needless to say, Napster files will not work on your iPod, Mac or the upcoming Zune. They will work on some (only some) mobile phones though. For instance, have a look at the Docomo x Music page and go to the “products” tab. If you hover over the phone images, you can see the supported “storage format” in the left sidebar — messy, to say the least. My favorite is the blue SH903i in the middle: Napster/WMA (Windows Media DRM), SD-Audio (SD-Audio DRM) and AAC (Chaku Uta Full DRM). That’s three completely different DRM formats for playing music on a small portable device — not to speak about the several interfaces for purchasing and managing music. Seems like the people preparing the SH903i manual also had a hard time explaining the differences, incompatibilities and restrictions — such a hard time, that they released three audio manuals: one explaining Napster To Go, one SD-Audio and another one WMA. Ouch.