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And speaking of eMusic… July 2, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Music.
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emusicAs of yesterday, what was once the subscription-based indie alternative to Itunes is now an Itunes wannabe crossed with a subscription service. In the USA, at least, where the Sony catalogue has been added, prices hiked up, subscription terms drastically changed, and per track charges replaced on a lot of albums by a standard 12 track charge, often in cases of albums with fewer tracks, less often in cases of albums with more.

It’s the worst of both worlds, judging by the reactions of American users. There’s a lot less selection than there is at Itunes or Amazon’s mp3 store; the prices are no longer a lot better than theirs; and you’re still locked into a subscription model rather than being able to just buy a few things. A lot of albums can now only be downloaded as album downloads, so forget just buying that one song you like.

The selling point of eMusic to its most fervent supporters was that its low cost and indie nature, combined with the subscription model (with more monthly downloads than now), made it easy to expand your musical horizons, taking a risk on unknown artists or trying out new genres of music at low cost, even if only to use up all those monthly download credits. Some users not only used every download every month but bought second subscriptions or booster packs, which allow a few more downloads at a somewhat higher per track cost. On the flipside, a lot of users didn’t bother to use up all their downloads every month. That was reportedly a significant amount of income for eMusic, because you pay whether you download anything or not, and your unused June downloads disappear when July begins.

For eMusic users in most countries outside the USA, things are really bad. They use the US service, which means they’re now paying a lot more and getting a lot less. and they don’t have access to the Sony catalogue, the main reason for those changes. For users in Canada and the UK, which have localized versions of eMusic, things are better. My plan hasn’t changed; I’m getting the same number of downloads for the same price. But that’s because we don’t have access to the Sony catalogue yet. When we do, and it’s coming eventually, we’ll be faced with the same changes that have led a lot of longtime eMusic users to quit the service.

Personally, I’ll have to wait and see, but even if I stick with it, my relationship with eMusic will be very different. As a lot of other users have said, there’ll be a lot less experimenting, more sticking with sure things. That’s not great for me. It’s not great for a lot of obscure artists and labels, either.

It’s the end of a wonderful thing. It won’t satisfy the average music consumer, who may have issues with the subscription model and who won’t understand why the other major labels aren’t represented, and it certainly hasn’t pleased the people who were happy with eMusic before. Some day, business students may study this move as a classic case of fuckuppery, both for how it was done and for how it was communicated to the user base.

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