Danny Stein, eMusic’s new CEO, dropped some major news just now on eMusic’s semi-official 17 Dots blog. As reported in more detail in the New York Times, Sony Music Entertainment (home of Arista, Epic, Columbia, and RCA, among others) has decided to release its back-catalog material (anything over 2 years old) to eMusic—basically what eMusic management has apparently been urging them and other major labels to do for ages. (For example, David Pakman addressed this in several of his interviews.)

The major trade-off (no pun intended) seems to be that eMusic has agreed to “slightly raise prices and reduce the number of downloads for some of its monthly plans,” in effect imposing a per-track price that is higher than its current prices, which range from $0.40 per track for the eMusic Basic plan (30 downloads for $11.99 per month) to $0.25 per month for the eMusic Connoisseur plan (100 downloads for $24.99 per month). What we don’t know yet is exactly which plans will be affected, and what the price increases will be. My personal guess is that the eMusic Basic plan will remain the same, but that the other plans will be revised to bring the lowest per-track price up to $0.30 or even higher.

So much for the bad news. On the positive side, this deal will give eMusic subscribers better access to the important works of past musical eras, will make eMusic more attractive to potential subscribers, and if successful may persuade other major labels to do likewise. This in turn makes it more likely that eMusic will survive and even thrive as a (relatively) low-price outlet for customers looking beyond the latest hits.

In his blog post Danny Stein raised a point about how this might change how customers might perceive and experience eMusic:

We’ve been requested to carry major label titles for years, but we always have gone back and forth on whether it would change the fabric of eMusic. We don’t think it makes sense to exclude great artists simply because their label partner is one of four specific companies. We look to some of our favorite music—The Sex Pistols, The Clash—and we certainly never think to ourselves “Major Label.” What do you think? Do “major” and “indie” mean anything to you or is this just industry jargon?

In the past the record labels now aggregated under the term “major” were in fact where the most important innovations in popular music were happening (as Bob Lefsetz never tires of reminding us). I think that including older releases from some of those labels in the overall eMusic offering is perfectly consistent with eMusic’s current positioning of itself as “the internet’s corner music store,” especially if eMusic is going to pull out all the stops on providing context and recommendation. (Which I expect will happen—to the extent that this is an experiment, eMusic has every motivation to make it successful.)

I think the major downside other than the price increases is that people will be very mistrustful of having a repeat of the Rolling Stones fiasco. That apparently wasn’t eMusic’s fault, but if Bruce Stringsteen or whoever decides that they don’t like their music being “cheapened” by being sold at eMusic prices and is successful in getting it pulled, or if Sony upper management gets cold feet and decides to kill the entire deal, that’s going to leave a pretty sour taste in the mouths of eMusic subscribers, especially given that the new higher prices will likely remain in effect.

Jumpturn (jumpturn@hotmail.com) - 2009-06-01 17:38

>>The major trade-off (no pun intended) seems to be that eMusic has agreed to slightly raise prices and reduce the number of downloads for some of its monthly plans« SLIGHTLY? Slicing the # of downloads by 40/month? So I can access Wal-Mart artists? WHATEVER

hecker - 2009-06-01 18:37

Note that I was quoting from the New York Times story and didn’t have actual data on pricing when I wrote this. As you note, the actual increases are substantial, by my estimation a 25-100% increase in per-track prices depending on a person’s current plan.

Ground and Sky » Blog Archive » eMusic about to get a lot less awesome - 2009-06-01 19:51

[…] business model becomes more sustainable, I guess I can’t really complain too much. But Swindleeeee!!!!! thought of another interesting potential negative scenario: I think the major downside other than […]

Robb (robecker@u.washington.edu) - 2009-06-01 21:51

Well, now we know - this deal means less music for more money: They have doubled their prices to give us access to a used record bin. Independence of the record labels involved was less of a concern to me than the independence of the service itself. E-music has just become an out of date, watered-down iTunes.

Lloyd (2K Club) (whpcream@teleport.com) - 2009-06-02 01:18

Well, crap! This just sucks. Pardon my French. I am on the 780 annual downloads (65 a month) for $143.90. After November, when my year expires, I would go to 288 downloads (24 a month) for $129.99. Great! I save $13.91 but loose 492 downloads! Well, I will give this place a chance until it is time to renew. But unless I am wowed by the new catalog, it is Amazon for me. Keep in mind that the vast majority of time I download compete albums and both iT and A already offer discounts for album download. Advantages? Better bit rate and I don’t have to worry about downloads expiring. Re: Springsteen and B. Joel Don’t get me wrong, I love them. I’ve loved them since I was in my teens. So I have had plenty of time to buy the CDs. And rip them. Why on earth would I want to download stuff I already have? Or I can get cheap as a used CD.

Mik1 (mik1surf1@comcast.net) - 2009-06-02 20:06

I am bummed by the new e-music plan. I can pick up all the major label CDs cheap at flea markets and the like. So why do I want to pay 50 cents per download when I can get a CD from which I can rip the music from for less. I alos loved being able to try new artists on emusic but now that will be severely curtailed with the price increase.

Stephen (Judah82@aol.com) - 2009-06-02 21:48

I, too, am bummed. I’m outta here when the new pricing plans begin. I wouldn’t spend what I spend on DLs anyway, so I’ll be saving bucks while eMusic will be losing them (at least from me). Bad news for eMusic customers needs to translate into bad news for eMusic.

rarobles (rarobles@gmail.com) - 2009-06-03 05:59

I’ve been an eMusic member from the early days. I’ve referred dozens of people to eMusic. I’ve remained loyal even as I’ve had my plan “converted” twice into more expensive plans with fewer downloads. But this latest announcement is too much — I’ll get 35 downloads instead of 75, for $30/month instead of $15? And for what, just so I have access to the back catalogs of major labels, filled with music that I already own and/or can download from Amazon, iTunes, Rhapsody or a half-dozen other sources? Thanks for killing a great thing, eMusic. I promise you I will not renew my subscription when this one expires.

eric (erfmd@aol.com) - 2009-06-03 07:52


smooth (jinglebell@rock.com) - 2009-06-04 00:49

The major labels are an evil to the music world and I came here specifically to support independent artists, not them. The competitive edge that got people here to try the indies (low price) is gone with this corporate sell out, and I’m gone too. (Off to check out mag na tune + am ie street + aud io lunch box . com)

social cache: we deal in uncommon cents. » Blog Archive » Ten Years Later eMusic.com Crushes It Brand Values in One Day - The Perils of Not Having a Community Manager - 2009-06-04 19:00

[…] eMusic’s web site with message and 800+ comments. The Phoenix New Times newspaper - headline Sony Ruins eMusic’s Indie Credibility, Raises Rates HypeBot - eMusic Readers React to Sony Addition Swindleeeee leaves a post […]

Sal (salfarina@gmail.com) - 2009-06-06 05:06

since i was on a non standard plan grandfathered in from 3 years ago, i went from 65 tracks/month to 24, at about the same price. i.e. nearly a 150% rate hike, so i can download eminem or whatever. i am pissed.

Bill (buseburke@sbcglobal.net) - 2009-06-06 22:19

Central to eMusic was the concept that with low prices I could try out a lot of new music. And it did have that effect. And, in some cases I went out and bought CDs by artists I never would have heard of otherwise. Doubling prices kills that concept. I know the artists in the Sony back catalogue and, as others have pointed out, don’t need to figure out whether I like them. So this is a bad move in that it I can get now get one of Dave Brubeck’s old Columbia albums on eMusic, but I’ll have half as many downloads and am much less likely to discover young jazz musicians. Seems to me if eMusic really wants to go down this path, they should explore multiple pricing schemes where some tracks cost more than others.

Jay (nosecow@hotmail.com) - 2009-06-08 06:13

He wonders if it will change emusic? Sure it will; it will become more of a mall record store and less of a fun place to explore.

Jessica (jweissmn@his.com) - 2009-06-15 13:32

The only good news is that multiple track albums will be charged at 12 downloads max. For classical music fans and fans of big compilations, this is a win. But a feeble one. I’ll spend a few months grabbing all those many-track albums, then skip the subscription. Alas.

secretary (secretarykissinger@yahoo.com) - 2009-06-18 04:52

this is insulting. i was proud to be a long-time emusic subscriber; now i’m sad to be a former long-time emusic subscriber.

Bob (chicagobob@hotmail.com) - 2009-06-18 19:19

Now that e-music is in bed with Sony we’re all (loyal customers) getting squeezed out. E-Music owes it’s success to tapping into the niche market music scenes, offering music that isn’t necessarily mass market. Not having to cater to this mass market they were able to grow outside of the costs of having to license the likes of Jonas Brothers, Ashley Tisdale, Taylor Swift ect. It seems like E-Music is tossing out it’s loyal consumers just so they can get into the game with other downloadable content like i-Tunes and Amazon. Unfortunately they are straying from the path that made them successful in the first place. Enough so to even think they need to compete against i-Tunes and Amazon instead of realizing eMusic can offer what they can’t. People will always be bummed about any subscription change. At least grandfather those of us who helped eMusic get to where it is by honoring the subscriptions we’ve purchased for over 5 years!

DJ Jackdaw (DJjackdaw@gmail.com) - 2009-06-21 19:40

I gotta say that an increase from 22.2¢ per download to damn close to 40¢ per download is a very steep price increase. I understand eMusic has to be a viable business etc. but I’ll bet that at most I’ll want about 3 tracks a year from the newly available labels. Truth is, for years those labels have ignored my musical interests. Why should I now be expected to pay a whole lot more so that their releases can be available on eMusic? It’s not like you can’t find their releases in many other places, real world and online. Why should I support their desires to fatten their bottom line on recordings that they’ve mostly made their investment back on many times over. I valued eMusic for the opportunity to check out, at very low cost, a lot of new recordings that generally are hard to find in the physical world. I really don’t give a fuck about being able to download The Clash or Sex Pistols via eMusic. They’re hardly what I’d call cutting edge music any longer. No one who’s opinion I respect would think that they were significant today in any way other than historical. Much as I like the music, they’ve become basically little more than consumerist fodder for those who haven’t kept up with the times. I think that this new strategy is kissing the asses of the fat shits that are only concerned about money, not music; the same fat shits who damn near wrecked their business through their unfettered greed. It’s a serious stumble for eMusic in my opinion. Obviously, the value I derived from the low-cost ability to audition a lot of music has now been chucked out the window. I can only hope that sufficient attention continues to be paid to the wide range of music that does interest me; the music made by musicians for those involved with music, not just product. If the availability or profile of worthwhile music is diminished with this change it will truly be a sad day for eMusic.

Dusty (dusty@vic.com) - 2009-07-15 19:31

I think the move to album-pricing was inevitable: the previous “a track is a track” approach was unfair to musicians who record long tracks and listeners who like albums with many short ones. But this means that most estimates of the price increase are far too low: Many albums with 5-10 track are now listed as 12 tracks, with key tracks that used to be available independently now only available as part of the package. The price increase per track for my own plan was 67%, but adjusting for the new track accounting means my effective increase is well over 100%. I am not cancelling yet, but it may be coming soon.