bye, emusic

Last month the online music store Emusic made two big announcements. First, they had reached a deal with Sony to sell its back catalog, including artists such as Miles Davis, Bob Dylan and everyone’s favorite, Michael Jackson. Second, prices were going up to around 50 cents per track. Many vituperative subscribers issued harsh missives on the site’s message boards. I held my tongue because I wanted to see how their changes affected the Emusic experience. I’ve quit Emusic before, when it moved from an unlimited download system to a tiered credits-per-month one, and I didn’t want to make that mistake again.

Emusic has always been flawed: album availability is notoriously spotty, the download clients are extremely buggy, and the website itself could be more intuitively designed. But back when I was in college, back in the unlimited days, Emusic also formed the backbone of my friends’ music collections. I resubscribed after about a year away when I realized it was still a pretty great deal and that I missed its editorial eyes.

Now, I’m pretty sure I can do without it, because I don’t like getting ripped off. As I logged on yesterday, I played around under the new rules and discovered much to hate. New bugs aside (I had to download every track twice), the new policies are tilted toward making sure I can’t use all of my downloads. If the old subscription plan relied on the hope that I wouldn’t use all of my downloads for the month, the new plan makes sure that I won’t.

The reworking of the credit system leaves users less free to buy single tracks, while the addition of Sony’s catalog increases our desire to purchase them. Emusic items are now nearly all priced at 12 credits, which can be a bargain if the track listing on an album reaches into the 20s, but it’s become more difficult to select individual tracks. The hits are almost all labeled as “album tracks only,” unavailable for individual purchase. If I wanted to choose from the Michael Jackson catalog, for instance, I’m better off going to Amazon mp3, where I can buy Billie Jean without being saddled with The Girl is Mine. Additionally, if nearly every album is 12 credits, and my subscription rate is not a multiple of 12, it becomes very difficult to use up my monthly quota. A 3-track Sunn-O))) album is now worth 12 credits. I currently have 21 credits remaining, which means one album and 9 tracks from 9 other separate indie albums. If Emusic’s editorial team actively identified individual tracks that one should own, this might be a welcome gateway to new music, but their recommendation system is based on full albums. The system is gamed to frustrate customers so that they won’t put in the energy of using all their credits.

But that’s not all! With a lower track-per-month limit, customers are discouraged from taking chances with new music. In the past, I took flyers on albums and tracks I never would have bought elsewhere, because I had some extra credits left over.

Independent music should be cheaper than offerings from big labels–it’s cheaper to produce, and doesn’t have the marketing power of a major label to support it. Buyers were less likely to be familiar with the music they’re purchasing, since they’re usually buying based on sketchy word-of-mouth or reckless music blogs. Emusic once understood this. But now, the days of experimenting on Emusic are over.

I have an annual description, so I’ll get to see how it performs for the next six months, but after that I’m done. Thanks music industry.


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July 2009
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