In less than a month my grandfathered eMusic Basic 2-year plan (40 tracks per month at a cost of $7.49 per month or $0.19 per track) will end, and I’ll face a choice of what to do next. eMusic’s suggestion is that I go for a eMusic Plus Annual plan: 35 tracks per month at a cost of about $14.33 per month or $0.41 per track. However rather than simply going along with an almost doubling in cost of my music buying habit, I’ve decided to rethink how I actually discover and listen to music, and look at additional possibilities beyond eMusic (or to supplement eMusic) that might serve me better at a comparable cost to what I’ve been paying. This also leads to some thoughts on how eMusic could become a better service from my point of view or, alternatively, how a new service could replace eMusic in my affections.

For a long time now I’ve been a fan of “disruptive innovation” theory as pioneered and popularized by Clayton Christensen and his colleagues. One of the key concepts in Christensen’s theory is that people “hire” products because they have certain “jobs to be done.” To quote the folks at Innosight (a consulting firm co-founded by Christensen):

Using the jobs-to-be-done concept requires first understanding the problems a customer faces—whether at work or in daily life. We find it helpful to push for as much specificity as possible when describing a job. Complete a job statement that looks like the following:

[Customer] wants to [solve a problem] in [this context]

Identifying the context is particularly important. For example, trying to access the latest news while you are on an airplane is a fundamentally different problem than trying to access the latest news while sitting in front of your television or commuting to work.

Thus, for example, when it comes to music and music-related content I have at least four separate jobs to be done:

  1. Occupying my mind while I work, do spare-time writing like this, or surf the web. For this purpose I typically prefer to listen to music I already know (to avoid encountering unfamiliar songs that might break my concentration) and to listen to full albums (to prolong the time before I need to select something else). In this context I’ll typically be using my laptop and have an Internet connection.
  2. Occupying my mind while I work or read on plane or train trips. My listening patterns are the same as with job 1, but I’m typically using my iPod (or the iPod app on my iPhone) instead of my laptop, and (at least on planes) have no way to connect to the Internet.
  3. More actively listening to music while I’m in the car driving. Sometimes my listening patterns are the same as in jobs 1 and 2; other times I prefer to listen to random music chosen by others, to avoid having to distract myself by choosing what I want to listen to, and also to increase the novelty factor. (I’ll refer to these are jobs 3a and 3b respectively.) In this context I have a choice of satellite radio, my iPod (no network connection), or my iPhone (Internet connection over the AT&T 3G network).
  4. “Auditioning” music for jobs 1 and 2, i.e., deliberately seeking out new music and actively listening to it in order to determine whether I want to make it part of my core collection of things I listen to on a regular basis. I typically combine this type of listening (which I do on my laptop) with reading music reviews on eMusic, Amazon, or other sources, or looking for recommendations on 17 Dots or the eMusic message boards. Since I tend to listen to albums I typically audition entire albums and not individual tracks.

Note that the above simply reflect my personal uses for music, and are far from exhausting the range of possible jobs to be done involving music. For example, one might listen to music to accompany exercise, to pump oneself up for a sports event or a big presentation at work, to establish a mood for a date or other occasion, or to serve as a marker signaling ones’ membership in a social group or subculture (e.g., “Williamsburg hipsters”). However since I’m part of eMusic’s target audience (“music lovers in the underserved 25-54 demographic”) I suspect that many eMusic subscribers share at least two or three of my jobs to be done.

There are a couple of other factors to take into consideration; again I suspect I share these with many eMusic subscribers:

  • I am price-sensitive, but not extremely so. On the one hand, I’m not willing to buy music at the typical present-day price points, e.g., $0.99–1.29 per track or $9.99 for an album. On the other hand, I have little or no interest in spending extra time tracking down free downloads (whether authorized or not), buying or trading for used CDs, or waiting for periodic sales (e.g., Amazon’s “Daily Deal” or “50/$5” promotions).
  • I pay little or no attention to current mainstream pop, rock, or hip-hop, and am content to buy primarily from independent labels or (to a lesser extent) from major label back catalogs.

Given the above, what types of music products and services should I “hire”? More on that in my next post.