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eMusic and why the recording industry loses friends

August 12, 2009

Apparently eMusic’s business strategy is to make extensive use of the bait and switch. I joined their service over a year ago, and for a while I was quite happy. The idea that I could pay around 30 cents a track for music from the periphery (i.e.- no hits, few major bands or limited tracks from same) seemed to make sense given the pricing structure and catalogs of other services. Other advantages were the fact that tracks rolled from month to month, and that one could download the tracks to other machines as often as it pleased one. Related to that, one could always via the download history find tracks that one misplaced and download them again.

Without any notification from eMusic–I haven’t received an email from them for over a year other than in response to explicit support requests–all of those conditions were changed. Most of this is related to the fact that eMusic sold its soul to Sony. Sure, that added a bunch of mainstream music to their catalog, but if I want that, I would use the iTunes music store despite its higher per track price because it has the largest catalog. Here were the nasty surprises eMusic pulled on me:

  • My plan no longer exists in the new regime. If I change plans, I cannot go back to it. Guess what: all of the new plans have a higher per track price.
  • Many albums are now all or nothing. No more picking the tracks one likes. You either download them all, or none. Another reason to use iTunes.
  • With the Sony deal, a large portion of their previous catalog was removed. Surprise! I can no longer download those tracks from my history.
  • Even worse, it is now impossible to download the tracks at all from the history. So now one gets one chance to get it right. Lose the track, you have to buy it again.*
  • Tracks (oops, they are now credits, and some songs cost more than one credit, another “little” change) no longer roll from month to month. I logged in recently, saw that I had only 30 tracks (the refresh amount from my non-standard plan) and wonderered where the remaining tracks from the previous month had gone. I complained to eMusic’s customer support about this and was told:
    • Remember: downloads do not roll over from one billing cycle to the next. It’s use ‘em or lose ‘em!
  • Remember? Remember?! What I remember is that when I joined and for a while thereafter, they did roll. What an obnoxious thing to say to a customer.

To try to appease me, their support threw a ten credit bonus pack at me (here, dog, take the bone, good doggie) and then–in a bit of boilerplate only a corporate marketing idiot would ask service agents to put in an email–said that in the new regime I should be happy because the new catalog had nearly 200,000 new tracks added “including many of the most loved names in music like Michael Jackson, Kings of Leon, and Beyonce.” Huh, what? eMusic was about alternative/obscure music, it is why I joined, and you think this will make me happy.

Needless to say, I am going to take the ten tracks, download what remains of what I paid for, and cancel my eMusic subscription. And the recording industry wonders why it is one of the most reviled industries going.

*UPDATE: To be fair, I need to point out that one of my assertions above is wrong. One can still download previously purchased tracks, albeit from the album page, not from the download history. This makes it one step more difficult–if you don’t remember what you downloaded, you have to go to the history, and then search for the album to get the link to download it again–but with a little mucking around, it is possible. Of course, this only works if eMusic still has the content, which after the Sony deal may or may not be the case. I would estimate that nearly 40% of my downloads are no longer hosted by eMusic. I understand why this happens–as a librarian, I know the vagaries of licensed content better than most–but it is still bothersome.

UPDATE to the UPDATE: Well, one can redownload tracks, but only a “reasonable” number of times, whatever that euphemism might mean. While (re)downloading a track today I saw this message:

“eMusic offers limited re-downloads, without charge, when a track or album fails to download correctly or is corrupted …”

The way they sold their service in the old regime was to tout that one could download again and again. This is very useful for those of us who work at multiple computers in various places and own various devices. It is perfectly legal for me to have a copy of a song I have purchased on all machines owned by me.

  1. Jake permalink
    August 13, 2009 22:28

    I recently gave up eMusic too, for similar reasons. However, you are mistaken that the tracks used to roll over from month to month. They never did, which was one of the chief complaints people had against eMusic until they got a whole lot more to complain about. This week I received an email from them asking me to come back — part of their pitch was that some percentage of your credits will now roll over.

    Still not going back though.

  2. Dale permalink*
    August 13, 2009 22:48

    Wow, I could swear the credits rolled back when I joined. Wish I had a screen shot to show it, but perhaps I am just confused about some counts I saw on my account at one point. At any rate, even if that is the case, I still find the recent changes more than compelling enough to dump them.

  3. Rich permalink
    October 18, 2009 17:12

    I ditched e-music after the Sony fiasco as well. I had joined in 2003 or so, when I was getting 65 tracks for $15. A couple of years after that, they restructured the pricing scheme, but grandfathered my plan in “for life” as long as I remained a paid subscriber. Worked for me. But they went back on their word when the Sony deal was rolled out, and my plan was automagically changed for me. That, plus the fact that I have no interest in Sony’s catalog and the new system sucks, was enough for me to leave.

    I *never* got tracks rolled over month-to-month, and I always thought this was a cheap tactic by e-music, in combination with the rollover date that moved around. I will say that I usually could get some of them back by complaining to customer service.

    I fully expect e-music will continue to alter their pricing scheme over time until they are charging the same as the other digital music services.

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