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eMusic Adds Sony, But Could Pay A Price

Emusic Sony new logo eMusic was founded as a fierce supporter of independent music and has continued to maintain that stance…until now. Soon eMusic's 400,000 monthly subscribers will have access to the music of Michael Jackson, Billy Joel and the  others artists from Sony's deep catalog of labels including Arista, Columbia, Epic, Jive, LaFace, Legacy and RCA.  The offering will be restricted to rleases more than two years old.

But the addition of Sony to eMusic comes at a price. As part of the deal, eMusic will raise prices and reduce the number of downloads on some of its plans, according to reports. It is unclear if the deal will effect eMusic's use of  25-75 free tracks to entice subsribers.

COMMENTARY: How eMusic's subsribers will react to higher prices and lower download caps is only one potential hurdle that eMuisc faces with the Sony deal.  Indie labels may also react negatively to their previously indie-only club being invaded by a major. Indie download counts are also likely to suffer as subscribers use reduced quotas to grab Dylan, Jeff Buckley and Leonard Cohen at deeply discounted prices.

Perhaps in an attempt to calm those fears, eMusic is promising to "contextualize albums and songs from Sony Music's renowned artists, drawing meaningful connections between major and indie artists…".

For Sony, the eMusic deal is an admission that its deep catalog…

is not moving at $.99 or even $.69 cents a track and could signal a willingness to except further downward price pressure from other online retailers.

Then there is the potential reaction from Sony's powerful legacy artists who will now receive payments based on eMusic's reduced payouts that have in the past have ranged closer to 30 cents a track then the $.65 cents that others pay on a 99 cents download.

And will other major label gorups follow? If they do, how will it effect pricing elsewhere?

Lower prices for all downloads is invetiable – even overdue.  And perhaps Sony was smart to begin its experiment in the walled garden of eMusic.  But is a test of 400k indie minded sunscribers really a test? And is the addtion of Sony an admission that eMusic's core purpose as a place for indie music discovery no longer a viable business?

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9 Comments

  1. I’ve been a long time supporter of eMusic over here, but I think this is a bad move. On the eMusic boards, longtime subscribers are freaking! Not happy at all. While the consumer cost will still be less than iTunes or Amazon, many people note this discourages the risk taking which is part of the charm of eMusic. Also, I think this is going to be difficult to justify as the people there are there for the indie labels and don’t care as much for mainstream stuff. On the flip side, the people who are looking for Britney’s new single aren’t going to do a subscription plan. I’ve been with eMusic for a long time, but I think this is going to be like iTunes’ new $1.29 price point. It is going to cost them sales and the extra revenue isn’t going to make up the slack.

  2. Oh and as a long time subscriber, this may push me away. I’m on an annual plan that doesn’t renew until late October, so I’ll have a chance to test drive the new eMusic. I just don’t know if it’s going to be worth it for me. If the new Napster worked on a Mac or Spotify was in the US, this decision would be a lot harder…

  3. I’ve been an emusic subscriber for a few years, and I think I am jumping ship when my subscription expires. The appeal of the service to me is the cost. I put up with the limited inventory (even of indie label material) and monthly download deadlines, because it is a good deal. The profit, as I understand it, in the subscription system is based on some people not downloading all of their tracks in a particular month. At the higher prices, I’ll go back to buying used CDs on Amazon, Ebay and elsewhere and only buy what I really want, ripping them, and either keeping the cds or selling them. Others will just resort to illegal downloads. The subscription model doesn’t work for me at the higher price point.

  4. From an Indie Label stand point, I like eMusic, but I don’t like this move at all. This is the Majors way of tapping the indie market and lure customers away from solid Indies. It seems to be a back room deal in which Sony is getting a better deal than Independent Labels. However I also feel like this could be a good thing for people offering other creative ways of getting music through subscription.

  5. I’ve posted a roundup of the new prices at http://swindleeeee.com/2009/06/02/new-emusic-us-pricing/ (based on options offered to new subscribers and to me as a current subscriber). The price increases will really hit long-time eMusic users (many of whom have grandfathered plans from before previous price increases) and heavy eMusic users (who are facing at least 50-65% price increases).
    By the way, I just checked, and eMusic is currently offering 45 free downloads for new subscribers signing up for the new plans.

  6. I should also add that $0.40 per track seems to be the new floor for eMusic prices. I can’t find any published eMusic plan that offers a lower per-track price.

  7. Very sad. I have no interest in major label pablum. This may be the end of my many years with emusic.
    Why not two subscriptions?
    One old-school model, keeping the older pricing and only allowing access to the participating labels.
    Another “mindless formulaic disposable noise” model, which would allow access to the major labels (Sony etc) at the higher prices.
    Let the customer decide.

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