Friday, September 04, 2009

Just Hinting At Desperation Is So Brick-And-Mortar: Further Adventures with eMusic

Yesterday eMusic gave an unknown number of members an unexpected bonus of 50 free downloads, the equivalent of a whole month under my newly disimproved plan. I know at least one of my friends who also stuck it out with eMusic received this bonus, as well, so I'm assuming it was wide-flung. Without any specific information about why eMusic would do such a thing, the reason seems obvious: they have alienated and lost many of their long-time customers without bringing in enough new customers to offset their losses. I could be wrong about this, but this certainly appears to be a desperate plea to stop the bleeding. The problem with this is that the naked desperation could alienate investors and sour their Sony deal.

Should someone in the planning division of eMusic read this, I'm offering you this business advice for free. I'm not a marketing sage, but I do work in public policy and can recognize a poorly-planned and poorly-functioning program when I see it. What you've done wrong is acted as if the record companies are your clients but the subscribers are not. You have worked out a deal that is better for the former, but you treated the latter as if their continued subscription was a given. And now you're losing money and desperately trying to re-establish the loyalty of your customer base. Here's a couple of things you can do to reduce your flop-sweat.

1. Give people advance notice so you look like you know what you're doing. Instead of the current message, which is: "Surprise! We really really really love you, after all, so please GOD don't cancel your subscription today," you need to send an advance message that says, "This is a rough transition, but we appreciate you sticking with us, so next week we have decided to reward long-time customers with an extra month of downloads." Then send another message thereafter. Email is free, people. Don't spring things on the base.

2. Try to attract customers back with the economics of album purchases, not single purchases. Amazon charges customers $8 - $10 for albums, and iTunes charges $10 - $12. You charge customers roughly $5 per album. It's STILL the best deal on the Internet (even after you alienated everyone by doubling your cost-per-download with insufficient notice), but you make no mention of this on your site. When you list your values, you focus on single songs. That's great, but bring it on home, homies. Your base, whether you like it or not, are mostly rock geeks who are interested in albums, not singles. In fact, you discourage purchases of singles by requiring album downloads to get ahold of certain songs, seemingly those that are quite popular or over 10 minutes in length.

3. Adjust your number of downloads per month or your number of credits per album. This is key, guys. I have 50 downloads, and albums cost 12 downloads apiece. That's four albums and change. It appears that you don't know how to divide. If you want to standardize the number of downloads per album - and I realize that this isn't the case on every album, but it is on most - make it so that your plans include a whole number of albums. As a customer who likes value, I would appreciate it if you would standardize album downloads at 10 credits, or five albums per month for guys like me. You would then be charging $4/album, which is roughly half of Amazon's best deal, an easily-understood value that people can relate to and that you can market with. I realize you want a sliding scale for EPs, but, just speaking for myself, EPs are a tiny portion of my downloads. Go 1 credit/1 download for albums with fewer than 10 songs. This would be good business because unlike Amazon or iTunes, your customers are locked into a certain number of downloads per month. You should strive to give them the biggest bang for their buck, and speaking as a customer, it's easier to justify the expense ($240/year!) when I look at the albums per month, which has fallen precipitously since you changed your subscription service.

Anyway, please work on this, guys. As annoyed as I have been with your past mistakes, I'm sticking it out with the hope that you will get your damn act together. Should you decide that my common sense and economic skills are the answer to your current mess, my contact email is easy to find at the bottom of the page.


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