What are you waiting for, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)? Now that Napster (NASDAQ:NAPS) has hired UBS to explore "strategic alternatives," could it get any easier to follow your dot-com rivals into the digital-music category?

This is exactly what I had suggested a year ago. A few months later, The New York Post cited industry sources that claimed such a deal was in the works.

Nothing materialized, of course. Now Google has to belly up to the bar before it blows the perfect opportunity to matter in music. It's currently the bronze medalist in video, a booming niche that nonetheless hasn't been as successfully monetized as the digital distribution of tunes. Scooping up Napster would make Google an overnight presence to reckon with.

The day the music cried
We're not living in a perfect world. Napster, in its present form, is begging for a sugar daddy. The company is cash-rich, but it's also burning through its greenbacks. That adds a level of urgency to get Napster up to the altar before its dowry runs dry.

Napster's balance sheet is blessed with $2.37 a share in greenery at the moment. That means that it would cost a company only about $3 a share to swallow Napster at a reasonable $5-a-stub offering price.

That may not seem like a tantalizing buy, once you realize that Napster is a slow bleeder. However, when you put the pieces together, you'll see why Google is a perfect match for Napster, which revolutionized digital music as a bad boy before it was remade as a legal music service.

Napster isn't the top dog. When it comes to music-subscription services, RealNetworks (NASDAQ:RNWK) has 1.6 million subscribers, roughly three times as many as Napster. Given its market dominance in search-engine traffic, Google could help pump up that volume.

Napster also boldly rolled out a free ad-supported music-streaming service back in May. At this point, given its heavy AdWords Rolodex, I can't imagine any company doing a better job at making that kind of offering pay off as well as sponsor-giddy Google.

Keeping up with Mr. Softy
If none of those reasons resonates with you, let's explore the tactical incentive. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is about to introduce its Zune portable-music player. It will also launch a music service to help feed the machines. Google and Microsoft seem to be locking horns everywhere they go these days. Google may as well arrive early for this round, so it can snag itself a choice seat.

Oh, and if you're naive enough to believe that Google's biggest rival is Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) -- not Microsoft -- it bears pointing out that Yahoo! has been pimping digital music for more than a year now.

By the same token, a music-subscription service is just about the only thing that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) doesn't offer in the iPod universe these days. With Google and Apple seemingly chummy as they both stare down Microsoft -- and Google CEO Eric Schmidt now warming a seat in the Apple boardroom -- this would be the ideal way for Google to take a bigger role in digital music without butting heads with Apple.

The song remains the same
As the ink dries on YouTube's recently brokered revenue-sharing deal with Warner Music Group (NYSE:WMG) from earlier this week, we're realizing that there's a fine legal line between music and video distribution. Folks are slapping published music onto their amateur videos without major-label consent, a development that has the always-litigious prerecorded music industry chomping at the bit.

The lawsuits should give way to similar revenue-sharing partnerships. Since all of the up-and-coming video-distribution sites will doubtlessly find it tricky to police users' uploads for licensing violations, Google should already be busy at the negotiating table with the record labels. Would it have a little more bargaining power if the industry also saw Google as a source for generating revenue through digital-music distribution? Of course.

The pieces fit, no matter how you approach them. Google has the breadth to instantly transform a desperate Napster into a profitable concern, yet it can buy up the digital music specialist at its equally desperate pricing.

This duet is just waiting to happen. Both companies just need to start singing in the same key for a change.

Digital music is a high-growth industry that's often explored in theRule Breakersnewsletter service. Microsoft is anInside Valuenewsletter service recommendation, while Yahoo! is a recentMotley Fool Stock Advisorselection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz isn't a subscriber to any digital music service, even though he does have satellite radio. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Foolhas a disclosure policy.