The day eMusic died?

eMusic is by far my favorite music store. A huge collection of indie, jazz, blues, classical, world, ambient… anything but mainstream. They keep the music DRM free,which means you are free to make as many copies as you please, and play on whatever device you like. For this reason, eMusic has little to offer from the Big Four labels (EMI, Universal, Sony and  Warner). In the name of copyright, these labels make various different attempts to limit your listening experience, limiting you to certain platforms, operating systems or music players including placing rootkit software on your computer to lock you out of your music or (as experienced by some customers of Sony) lock you out of your computer completely. Thanks, I do not need that.  As I am mainly a jazz, blues and classical music fan, with the occasional sprinkled indies, I get most of my listening needs from eMusic. I download the occasional album from Amazon MP3 store if I really feel the need for something not on eMusic.

I have a $15.99/30 days account which lets me download 50 tracks every 30 days: that’s just under $0.30 / track, a fantastic value considering that Amazon MP3 and iTunes charge upwards of $.90 per track. Also, I don’t support the big four’s DRM shenanigans, lawsuit frenzy and profit margins and I do support independent artists that would never have a chance of signing up with any of the Big Four.

Until now, that is.

Today I logged into eMusic to prepare some music into my basket, as my 30 day account refills around the 14th every month. I am flying on June 14th, and I would like a quick download of new tracks on my MP3 player for the plane once my quota kicks in.  I discovered that on May 31 eMusic announced that they are expanding their music and that they are hiking their prices. So come July  my $15.99 can now buy me 37 tracks instead of 50, which means I will be paying $0.41 / track.  That’s a 41% price increase! Although it is cheaper than what is out there, it does not allow for the fun of cheap experimenting with new music: instead of thinking twice before I download a new track, and then saying “what the hell” it’s only $0.29 and downloading it anyway,  I’ll probably download less, and go for the “sure things”.  The experience of discovering the musical diamonds in the rough has suddenly become somewhat pricey.  I used to allocate 5-10 tracks to experimenting, usually relegating them to the “listened once- – did not like” list. But I occasionally discovered wonderful things. That left me with 40 well thought out downloads per month, and 10 frivolous ones. Now, I will probably have to cut back on the frivolity, as would many other  eMusic customers. In the long run,that is probably not good for the discovery of interesting new and different music that is out there — what eMusic was all about. Also, you have to be a subscriber to buy from eMusic: you cannot buy occasionally like you do from Amazon MP3. This means that prices should be somewhat cheaper, due to the guaranteed customer loyalty in their business model.

OK, but $0.41/track is  still cheaper than Amazon or iTunes, so why am I making such a big fuss? Also, times are tough, and they are running a business, not a fuzz-and-wawa charity.  Well, the other problem is  that eMusic justifies the hike due to a deal with Sony, getting  Sony’s back catalog that expands eMusic’s repertoire by some 200,000 tracks.  But the reason I and many others are eMusic customers in the first place, is that we do not really care to listen — at least not for a bulk of our listening time — to the Dixie Chicks, or Leonard Cohen, or Bruce Springsteen. So eMusic have hiked their prices to subsidize a deal with the kind of label most eMusic customers would not go to anyway! Not only because of the music, but also because of the above-mentioned business practices. Also because Sony would never have given a starting chance to the likes of  Department of Eagles,  Bon Iver, Shearwater or Vic Ruggiero. (Look them up)

Finally, eMusic announced this event as a done deal, completely surprising its customers. Danny Stein, eMusic’s CEO published a letter on May 31.  There are now 1200 customer replies to Mr. Stein’s letter, and it seems like many, if not most are terribly unhappy about the whole affair.

I could [sic] care less if the selection is broadened when my plan is cut in half. If eMusic didn’t already have what I wanted, then I wouldn’t have subscribed, much less bumped up the subscription plan. Thanks for nothing. Now, where is that exit door

Getting 90 downloads a month for $191.90 a year probably was too cheap. I only wish that its rectification wasn’t such a thinly veiled jump in the sack with big business.

There were other responses too, those that understood the need for a price hike, although they were still grumbling about expanding with a Big Four label, instead of with more indies.

I set up a three question survey, which I also publicized on eMusic’s blog.  I know these surveys are crap as far as  sampling goes, but I did it anyway, just to get a feel for things. Also, it may help, if I get a few hundred respondents, to send the results to Mr. Stein. If you are an eMusic customer, please take a minute to fill the survey.

Here is a piece on how eMusic manhandled the whole situation
by a poor, mismanaged response to their customers. I mentioned that inherent customer loyalty is a vital part of eMusic’s business structure. Well, it seems that eMusic has taken that loyalty for granted. Not a smart business move, as is obvious from the waves of ire on eMusic’s blog, other blogs and the various social networks.

What will  I do? See how this new situation plays out.  eMusic was insanely cheap, and a price hike was due at some point. I am just not happy about the way they raised their prices, and who they did it for.

Finally, here is a great video to a great song from Department of Eagles; one of the bands I discovered in my frivolous downloads.  I always imagined “No One Does it Like You” to be a mellow, tender, morning-after love song.  This video turned it into a rather disturbing and haunting battle of the sexes. Beautiful though, in its own way.

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One Response to “The day eMusic died?”

  1. Daniel Bremson says:

    Hey–Agree with your sentiments. However, I do take exception to your clumping of Leonard Cohen with the likes of the Dixie Chicks and Bruce Springsteen. Not sure if I am going to cancel or not yet, most of the Sony back catalog is pretty available on Rapidshare–or the locale public library. Come on now though–Leonard Cohen, he Grocer Of Despair, spare us this derision.