Thursday, July 02, 2009

The eMusic eRevolution Will Be eHalf-Assed

Yesterday eMusic began offering the Sony catalog to subscribers, and incidentally screwed over many of the same long-term subscribers. Here's what happened.

At the end of May, the eMusic CEO Danny Stein announced that eMusic had inked a deal to offer some of the Sony catalog to subscribers. This led to two changes:

  1. New plans with less value for our dollar. Long-term subscribers were forced into new plans with fewer downloads for the same price per month. Some of these subscribers had plans that eMusic had grandfathered some years earlier. My former plan, for instance, was one I first bought in October 2005 for 90 downloads for $20/month. At at least one point afterwards, eMusic had modified their $20/month plan to include fewer downloads, but had allowed me to keep my plan. My new plan, however, is 50 "downloads" (I'll get into why I put scare quotes up in a minute) for $20/month. So my downloads have gone from 22.2 cents each up to 40 cents each. Still a better deal than Amazon or iTunes, but the effective cost to me has gone up by nearly 100 percent.
  2. Album pricing. Some - but not all - albums with more than 12 tracks will now have a fixed price of 12 "downloads," a term that eMusic has changed to "credits" on some pages. Some albums with fewer than 12 tracks, especially those where at least one of those tracks is longer than 10 minutes, will now cost subscribers 12 "credits" to download. This really hurts in metal and jazz, where the bang for the buck has always been so valuable. For example, I had 4 Albert Ayler albums in my Save For Later list, each of which had 2 tracks per album. Now eMusic wants 12 credits for each. It's still a better deal than Amazon or iTunes, but a far worse deal than I was offered just the day before yesterday.

So I spent the evening going through the new Sony offerings. I should point out that this wasn't easy, because eMusic's website remains as clunky and unfriendly as ever. The only way to find out what eMusic had added from Sony was to scroll through the new pages, which list everything recently added in groups of 10. All the Sony additions were made on 6/30/09, and to go through them all, I scrolled through nearly 900 pages. Some of the additions are damn great (Skip Spence, the Clash, Dylan) and some aren't (wow, the whole Celine Dion catalog plus Kenny G plus the New Kids On The Block, oh my!). The thing is that like many of eMusic's long-time subscribers, I'm already a hardcore music collector and I already have most of the new additions that I would be inclined to buy. I ended up adding a few Dylan albums that I don't have to my list, plus some Ellington and Mingus albums. I expect that it will take me maybe 2-3 months to burn through all of the new additions that interest me. At least, at the rate of my newly enhanced plan.

Judging from the 1600+ comments on Danny Stein's original announcement on eMusic's blog, I'd say that I'm not alone in being less than impressed with what subscribers are getting in return for the new catalog and reduced-value plans. I understand that eMusic needs to do what it can to remain a viable business, and Stein said that eMusic had been under pressure from the indie labels for some time to increase its per-download charge. I don't like the suddenness of the change, nor the lack of a response to complaints from eMusic. It is as if they've decided that they don't care about keeping their often-enthusiastic long-time subscribers - or, at least, don't know how to show that they care - and that doesn't make much business sense to me.

eMusic also needs to figure out what the per-album pricing means to them and to customers. If many of the albums I was previously planning to download now will cost me either 12 or 24 credits (double-albums are twice the credits), why are all the monthly download plans and booster packs being offered in multiples of 5? Don't get me wrong: I prefer the base-10 idea, but why not make the per-album credit a flat 10 downloads, then? Not that eMusic would listen to me; I'm merely a long-time subscriber.


Anonymous 6:35 AM, July 03, 2009  

Prices needed to go up, we get that. But what is actually getting to me is the way the album pricing is going down. There are few albums that beneficial to us with the new 12 credit rule. They completely downplayed, the fact that tracks that had less than 12 could still be charged the 12 credit limit.

I believe there is a lot of hot air being blown around. Change is tough especially when some users had great value from their plans. We will have to see how many users walk away and stay away from emusic.

I was giddy about the new additions, but my enthusiasm quickly ran out as I began to hit the wall of what sony had to offer. What i did find will have me entertained for a couple months. but after that there will be little reason to stay. At the current price structure I cannot afford to download obscure music that i am not entirely certain that i will like. too big a gamble.

short term it might just work if they get enough traffic from users that otherwise would have never tried emusic. but the long term seems bleak. as i mentioned emsuic subscribers were loyal, and paid month in and month out. will their new demographic be as loyal?

Hayden Childs 10:41 AM, July 03, 2009  

Absolutely. I agree with every word. The issue with albums being too expensive to take risks is especially galling because that was one of the most fun aspects of eMusic.

And I also think that the new customers they attract will not be as loyal. They seem to be setting themselves up as the new Columbia House record club, but how many people keep their memberships in that going? In fact, there used to be two record clubs, Columbia House and BMG. And one folded, so the other bought it out. Perhaps eMusic is hoping to steal some of the remaining club's thunder, but that's some weak-ass thunder and it won't keep eMusic viable in the long run.

Kowboyy 12:05 PM, July 23, 2009  

Major Major disappointment. After being a faithful member for 5 years, paying $20/month and referring countless friends and family to your service I find out that my credits dropped by almost half?!?!? Wow, what marketing genius decided to do that without communication?? (Oh yea, there was a banner on the home page for 30 days) Marketing is my profession and this is suicide to customer loyalty. After years of being a BIG fan I have to post my first thumbs down for emusic. I will take my $240/year and invest elsewhere. Goodby my longtime friend... I will miss you. Sounds like you will miss me only half as much.

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