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All the Rave: The Rise and Fall of Shawn Fanning's Napster Hardcover – April 8, 2003

3.6 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It was the best of ideas, it was the worst of ideas. Perhaps the most revolutionary technological concept to emerge in the super-heated days of the internet investment bubble (with apologies to one-click ordering), the peer-to-peer .mp3 file transfer system developed by barely reformed computer hacker Shawn Fanning fueled a company that at its peak claimed 70 million users and ranked as the fastest-growing company in history. Not bad for the out-of-wedlock son of the guitarist for a Boston-area Aerosmith cover band still in his teens.

The story of how Napster challenged the copyrights and distribution hegemony of the world's ruling music business cartel has become one of the e-boom's most enduring myths: David Vs. Goliath, with an outcome more like Tyson Vs. Lewis. In deconstructing the saga, veteran Los Angeles Times business reporter Joseph Menn patiently chronicles the double-dealing, ego, greed, hubris and remarkable naivete – informed by precious little long-term vision – that variously characterized both sides of the epic struggle.

Perhaps Menn's most telling revelations here center around the previously under-reported role of Shawn's uncle John Fanning, the shady, entrepreneurial con-man who claimed to be Napster's co-inventor/co-founder (distinctions that actually belonged to Shawn's teen friends, Jordan Ritter and Sean Parker), cutting himself in for a whopping 70% initial stake in the company. The elder Fanning's ability to clutch defeat from the jaws of even the smallest victory is set up as nothing less than Shakespearean parable. If Menn's work has a shortcoming, it's his seeming reticence to consider the larger, long-term implications of peer-to-peer file-swapping and an internet culture that enthusiastically stood centuries-old notions of property rights and demand-and-supply pricing firmly on its head by the tens of millions.

Ironically, the record industry's touted quashing of Napster was ultimately akin to killing a hydra-head monster. A variety of more lawsuit-resistant systems ultimately arose in its wake, leading one executive to ponder whether future record industry battles against file-swapping would simply degenerate into a never-ending game of "Whack-a-Mole". Jerry McCulley

From Publishers Weekly

In this definitive look at the revolutionary music-sharing site, Menn follows Napster's trajectory, from its founder Shawn Fanning's bedroom in Massachusetts to his relocated headquarters in California, and from the company's challenge of copyright laws and its stand against music industry behemoths to the federal court injunction that paralyzed it. Using interviews with key players, emails, court papers and internal documents, Menn, who covers Silicon Valley for the LA Times, reveals a union of youth, hype, rash decision-making and groundbreaking technology. The company beloved by young music fiends and bored office workers all across America had its share of problems during its meteoric rise: the shady background of the major shareholder and self-appointed co-founder, Fanning's uncle John; the never-ending search for funding and executive staff; the lack of a concrete business plan; and, of course, piracy charges. For several years, though, Napster was bolstered by public opinion and independent bands at odds with the record industry. "Napster dominated the market," Menn contends, "both because of its damn-the-torpedoes approach to business and its flawlessly easy-to-use technology." But when a judge ruled against the company's sale to Bertelsmann and Fanning failed to raise enough money for his own bid, Napster filed for bankruptcy and the young "ungeeky geek" whose hair gave Napster its name moved onto a new idea-one, he maintained, that would respect copyright laws. This story of hacker versus record giant is already a classic dot-com age tale, and Menn does it justice in this worthwhile read. 8-page b&w photo insert.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; 1 edition (April 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609610937
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609610930
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,352,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Let me start by saying that I'm very curious about the anonymous Bay Area reviews that say the book is wildly inaccurate. I'm writing a dissertation chapter on Napster (not the company, more the system), and although I didn't comparing every date and name, it seemed accurate. There are also two completely contradictory reviews by people who supposedly worked at Napster, but who knows if they did.
I feel this book is better than two other Napster books, "Sonic Boom" and "Irresistible Forces". Menn seems to have done a really good investigative job - he is a reporter after all - and includes people, perspectives, and histories that the other books don't mention at all. For instance, it turns out I've met someone who is mentioned in Menn's book but isn't in the other books. Menn interviews people who didn't invest in Napster, not just those who did. In other Napster stories, John Fanning is a father figure, and it ends there. Menn actually researches John Fanning's history, and it is ugly, complete with lawsuits and a police record. Other sources annoying tease us with hints of who Shawn Fanning's father is, and say he is a famous Boston-area musician. Menn tells us who he is - I'm from Boston, and I have never heard of the guy (Joe Rando).
Having read books, business press, law reviews, computer press, mainstream press, and other sources about Napster, I do think Menn does a very good job. Since I was not involved in Napster, I cannot say which versions, which stories, are true. Menn's work, however, gives a much richer picture of the company and the dealings within and around it than other sources I have read.
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Format: Hardcover
I just got done reading this book and I have to say that this is one of the best books I have ever read. You could tell that the author, Joseph Menn, put a lot of work into this with many quotes, facts, and background information on each of the people he introduces. The story that Menn tells is fully detailed and I felt as if I was part of the napster crew myself. The story never has any boring momements and he illustrates the personal relationships between the workers fantastically. I always wanted to know what happened at the napster company and now i know. I recommend this book to anyone who needs a break from fiction and would like to know the story of a kid's idea that changed the entertainment world forver. This book is nothing short of an A+
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By Mason on February 18, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Lots of content covering the Napster rise and ... transition. But, after a strong opening, it wasn't all that entertaining to read in the end. The book had a lot of important details and facts which led to Napster's history being the way that it was, but I was hoping for more anecdotal and fun stories about the company.
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Format: Hardcover
Here we have a voluminous history of the Napster phenomenon, but only from a certain jaundiced angle. As a critical outside journalist, Joseph Menn was unable to directly interview some of the principal players in the saga, and often relies on legal documentation. In turn, much of his research is based on secondary sources and hearsay from people not directly involved in the events described. This all taints many parts of the book and reduces its believability. We do get a good rundown of the genesis of Napster, as teenage computer whiz Shawn Fanning and some ambitious hacker friends had a brilliant idea about music file sharing, which then got far more monstrous than anyone could have ever expected. Menn then spends most of the book describing the byzantine investment deals and corporate wheeling and dealing to launch the doomed Napster corporation, in ways that were preposterous even during the dot-com bubble. In the end, enthusiastic people with great ideas tried to cash in, and watched forlornly as others let everything crash and burn.

These investigations by Menn are initially informative but descend into a tiresome swamp of nitpicking and unnecessary details that detract from the more interesting cultural ramifications of the Napster craze. And the biggest problem is that Menn gets very personal, especially when describing the business executives who got involved in Napster after its incorporation - piling on criticisms from other people who are clearly not neutral observers, and dwelling uselessly on people's love lives and personal transgressions. This goes especially for an apparent personal vendetta that Menn seems to have against John Fanning, Shawn's uncle and business strategist who muscled his way into prominence based on his nephew's invention.
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Format: Hardcover
As someone who actually worked at Napster during the time period of this book, let me tell you that the book is well written and dead on the mark. It uncovers exactly what no one knows -- John Fanning's pathological screwing of anyone (including his own family) to get what he wants, the common but rarely acknowledged minefield of business politics and relationships that coalesce around mega-hit startups (and the insanity that follows it), and of course one wild and crazy ride.
If you're a pedantic, ostentatious second-generation Napster ex-employee with obvious resentments about missing the boat, then this book is not for you. If you're everyone else, though, then buy buy buy!, because this book is a hell of an interesting read, and exposes a fairly common world that 99% of the non-Silicon Valley population doesn't even know exists.
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