Tuesday, June 2, 2009

One eMusic (ex-?) customer’s opinion

PhotobucketeMusic made a pretty significant announcement today. In a few months it will add some 200,000 tracks from Sony for download by subscribers. After years of being shunned by the major labels — who didn’t like eMusic’s lack of DRM, as well as its low prices — it has now snagged the second-biggest one. (It’s a catalog deal: it includes only songs more than two years old.)

DRM is a thing of the past. But what’s more important about this deal is what it tells us about the majors: (1) that they hungrily pursue every source of revenue, including those they once ignored; (2) that they have devalued their catalog (a couple of months ago, remember, they cut the price of most older songs on iTunes by 30 percent); and (3) that they are still trying to reduce iTunes’ market share by giving favorable deals to other retailers.

So now you’ll be able to download Michael Jackson songs for less than anywhere else. Which is good! The catch, though, is that the deal now is not nearly as good as it used to be. Sony muscled a big price increase out of eMusic, which sprung it on its customers in a most confusing way. For example, my plan used to be 600 downloads a year (50 per month) at $143.90, or 24 cents per song. On Monday I was told that this would be changing to “the new eMusic Bi-Annual 210 plan, which gives you 210 downloads for $95.90 every 180 days.” What? Do the math and you’ll see that it means 420 downloads a year (35 per month) at $191.80, or 46 cents per song — almost double the price!

I’m not thrilled about this, and need to figure out whether I’ll renew. But I’m not the only one who feels this way. A friend of mine, let’s call him Peter W. — no, let’s say P. Waisnor — has been a longtime eMusic subscriber, and he wrote a heartfelt note about his disappointment. This is the kind of customer no business wants to lose. And eMusic, you just blew it:

As a subscriber for nine years, I have weathered my share of policy and pricing changes from eMusic, but I have always continued my membership. I have to say that this new change is a hard one to accept. The price increase is far more than I would have ever expected given (what I thought was) the underlying focus of eMusic, their catalog and their membership... I work in sales and marketing, so I understand how improvements can raise the price of a product, but I also know that if I raised the price of my product by almost 50% overnight that my customers would say unpleasant things to me before switching to one of my competitors.

Even if I continue my membership, I will now be forced to treat eMusic no differently than I treat iTunes or Amazon, and this — more than anything — is what’s incredibly sad to me. iTunes and Amazon are fine, but I think of them like I think of a grocery store or an appliance warehouse — impersonal, utilitarian, get in and get out, know what you need before you go in. I have always thought of eMusic like my local record store, or like a friend’s basement in high school where I would just sit and discover new music for hours...

I was disappointed when unlimited downloads went away (which was probably eight years ago or something), but I learned to love my subscription and my 90 downloads per month. I bought booster packs until I was told that I went over my limit for the month and would have to wait until the beginning of my next billing cycle. I set up a second account just to get more music. I even changed one account from a grandfathered 90 downloads to a connoisseur plan because it was cheaper than maintaining my booster pack habit.

I have been mainlining music through eMusic for nine amazing years and I am sad to see that relationship change. eMusic has outlasted relationships, jobs, cars, apartments, laptops, and countless hard drives of ever increasing size. I have not decided whether to keep my membership yet, but I won’t let the unfortunate changes affect all the great music I have downloaded and the time I have enjoyed on the site. I just feel betrayed by what I perceive as an enormous amount of greed, and a wildly inappropriate price increase.

UPDATE: I hadn’t known, but Peter — I mean P. — posted his comment to eMusic’s official announcement. He's comment No. 335 out of 549 (and counting).


rudylandsam said...

This sucks about as bad as Lake Placid 2. I'm a lowly 30 downloads per month subscriber, and haven't received anything from them regarding a price hike. I assume I'm still going to get hit with it?

B. said...

Actually, I think it's just as bad as Lake Placid 1!