The (eMusic) Final Countdown

Earlier this year eMusic changed their pricing plans. For years I had been on a 90-download per month plan. The time on my yearly plan is almost at an end and I’ll need to decide whether to resubscribe at the new rates or ditch eMusic for good.

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For years I had been one of eMusic’s biggest cheerleaders. When they had 40 downloads for $10 a month it made a lot more sense to spend that then try to find music through P2P, especially when it was something more obscure. Working out at about 25¢ per download it was more valuable than iTunes.

But things have changed in the past few years. For starters, I joined eMusic back during the days when iTunes music was DRM’d. iTunes has dropped DRM and the encoding is better (eMusic is typically LAME MP3 alt -preset -standard, about 192kbps. iTunes is 256kbps AAC). Just about anything on eMusic can be found on iTunes. On top of this, Amazon is now in this marketplace with their sights set on iTunes – not eMusic.

eMusic is still less expensive than either of these. The current equivalent of my old plan is 35 downloads a month for $15.89 – 45¢ a track.

But eMusic hasn’t ever really been about music retail – at least for me. It’s been more about trying and discovering new music than anything else. Users were given a generous amount of credits. If you didn’t use your download credits you lost them, which meant that at the end of each month you might download stuff because you liked the album art or because you thought the band name was cool.

Even though the new plans are cheaper, they’re not low enough to encourage the musical playground that eMusic once was. I almost never regret buying an album from iTunes or Amazon. It costs more, so my purchases are more carefully considered. I don’t know for sure whether I actually like the music more or I subconsciously equate higher price with higher quality (hint: I’m pretty sure I do in some way). Those purchases are more hit than miss.

With eMusic whatever you download has to fit into their credit plan (which is weird, because full albums are now counted as 12 credits. Why offer a plan that’s not a multiple of 12?) – so there’d be more misses than hits, but it didn’t matter as much because tracks were a fraction of the cost. You want that kind of freedom? Rhapsody and Zune Pass look very compelling in comparison.

Plus, one has to think a little bit about eMusic’s explanation for the price increase:

We understand that the new price per download is a significant adjustment for some of you. The new pricing allows us to pay all our labels, and their artists, more and we hope will attract some of the great labels subscribers like you have been asking for. You can always choose a different plan by visiting the Plan Options page within Your Account.

“And we hope will attract some of the great labels subscribers like you have been asking for.” There’s no guarantee you’ll see Sub-Pop on eMusic, but they’re trying.

But think of it from Sub-Pop’s perspective: their catalog is strong enough that they don’t need eMusic and the lower cut they’d get. If most listeners will downloaded it through P2P anyway, why cut into profits from listeners who’ll pay for music by selling it to them for less through eMusic?

In fact, some of my favorite labels seem to be leaving eMusic. Some labels, like Warp, only put their old stuff on eMusic (with the exception of the latest Grizzly Bear, which isn’t very representative of Warp’s catalog anyway and was held for months before becoming available on eMusic).

Take all this into consideration and there appears to be little incentive to keep an eMusic plan.

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One Response to The (eMusic) Final Countdown

  1. Shaggy says:

    It only took a few weeks to realize that I had strongly curbed my sense of adventure on Emusic after they cut my credits nearly in half for the same price. Near the end of the month I would reliably spend my unused credits on some unexplored genres, and reliably I would find some super tunes.

    I’m also driven to P2P on occasion because I think its unfair that most songs over 10 minutes are indiscriminately put off limits as single-credit downloads.

    Spotify has already changed my life. When I can get reliable Spotify service my choice to leave Emusic will be an easy one.