Napster is to offer a free MP3 player to subscribers in a bid to tempt users away from iTunes, the UK’s most popular download service. Napster is offering the 512MB version of a Sandisk music player worth around £30 to customers take out a three-month subscription to Napster to Go at £14.95 a month.

Leanne Sharman, Napster’s UK general manager, quoted in The Sunday Times drew parallels with the mobile phone market where handsets have been offered free as part of a monthly subscription deal.

“The mobile industry is more mature than ours but it began as a pay-as-you-go business reliant on handset sales,” she said. “Now it's subscription that drives the business and allows the network carriers to give away new phones. This is the model for the future of the digital-music industry where content is king and MP3 players are disposable.”

Sharman added that the current popularity of the iPod and iTunes would prove to be transitory.

“Younger consumers are very fickle. You cannot have loyalty to a particular brand in that environment. More and more of the younger audience are buying flash-based MP3 players for £30-£50, more disposable than a £250 iPod.”

Napster currently only allows customers to ‘rent’ songs from a 2 million strong library; those songs becoming unavailable once a subscription is cancelled.