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Emusic’s Loss is Rhapsody’s Gain

emusicDisclaimer: This is more about music technology than actual music, so it might be boring to a lot of people (or everyone).

I’ve subscribed to Emusic for a number of years and credit the service with turning me into a regular downloader. Their indie focus and reasonable pricing structure won me over. For $25 per month, I could get 100 song download credits to use as I saw fit; for the cost of about two CDs, I could download about eight digital albums in restriction-free MP3 format. That was the sort of deal that even a CD fiend like me couldn’t pass up.

It was a small enough investment that I could justify paying for the download now and the CD later, if I decided that I really needed it. Plus, the independent focus meant that these usually weren’t albums I could pick up for $8 or $10 at Target. Because indie CDs are produced in smaller quantities and move fewer copies, they often cost more than your typical fast food music, which made Emusic an even better deal.

Emusic led me to try lots of artists that I otherwise wouldn’t have discovered so soon (or perhaps at all), like Amber Digby, Roger Alan Wade, Walt Wilkins, Ralph Stanley II, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. My positive experience with the service also warmed me up to the idea of buying MP3s instead of CDs, making me a customer of digital music stores by Amazon and Walmart as well. Emusic was the gateway.

Having so thoroughly won me over, now Emusic seems hellbent on chasing me away. And not just me. In a move that has provoked a great deal of complaint (to the tune of more than 1,700 comments on this blog post), they’re simultaneously straying from their indie mission by embracing the Sony back-catalog and jacking prices up rather considerably (nearly doubled in my case).

While Emusic contends that the price change would have been coming regardless of the Sony deal, on the consumer end it seems like suddenly being asked to pay a lot more to fund the addition of a bunch of music that is already readily available elsewhere. Oh, and did I mention that this is happening as money’s already pretty tight for most people (present company included)? Emusic is getting flack for the changes themselves and for the rather clumsy, thoughtless way they’ve gone about rolling them out. Judging from the comments, they’ll lose many of their most faithful customers over the whole ordeal.

I’ll be cutting back on my Emusic spending dramatically, probably opting for the minimum plan just so that I keep my account active and retain the ability to re-download all the stuff I’ve downloaded so far in the event of something catastrophic happening to my computer (it wouldn’t be the first time). Whenever I get around to making my own back-ups, I might cancel completely.

I wouldn’t be opposed to the price increases if they were rolled out gradually and I knew that the extra money would be going to the indie acts. But they weren’t and I don’t. The way Emusic has handled the announcement and ensuing fallout has shaken my confidence in the company.

rhapsodyI’m a music junkie and have to get my fix somewhere, so for now I’m returning to Rhapsody, a service I first tried out some years back. That was before I had an MP3 player (probably even before they were offering To Go service), so Rhapsody was effectively a personal music listening station that I had to remain tethered to at the computer. Not the most convenient thing in the world, but I stuck with it for a year or so.

Now, they offer the To Go service for a mere $2 more than the base Unlimited Listening plan. As an Apple skeptic, I already happen to have a Rhapsody compatible MP3 player (this Sansa Clip) rather than the ubiquitous iPod. So for $15 a month, I can load up my Clip with all sorts of music I might have never gotten around to purchasing outright and listen to it in places other than a desk. Tuesday morning, I loaded it up with the latest releases from Brad Paisley, Tanya Tucker, and Cledus T. Judd without paying anything or using up any song credits. I may buy those albums eventually (definitely Paisley), but it’s nice to have them available for portable listening immediately.

Of course, there are a few restrictions. I don’t actually own the music, so I can’t burn it to CD unless I purchase the MP3s from Rhapsody separately. I have to connect my player to the computer at least once a month to update the licenses. It’s not quite as seamless or idiot-proof as the iPod/iTunes combo… but it’s much cheaper, especially if you’re the sort of person who goes through music like Julianne Hough goes through lip gloss. Buy the player once and then $15 per month will cover you. Unless you’re really into making mix CDs or something, it seems like a pretty good way of keeping up on the latest releases without going broke.

So it’s Rhapsody for now, but I’ll still be waiting for some company to come along and fill the low-cost, exclusively indie space recently forfeited by Emusic.

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About C.M. Wilcox

A freelance writer and humorist with an abiding love of country music, C.M. Wilcox's cutting, clear-eyed take on the genre has drawn the attention of Country Weekly, The Washington Post, and The Tennessean in the years since this site began. He lives near Sacramento and can be reached by email at CMW (at) countrycalifornia.com.

Things People Are Saying

  1. Dan says:

    Yeah, eMusic have kind of shot themselves in the foot with this. It’s still a better bargain than any digital outlet I’ve seen, but not by much anymore. I’m one of the lucky folks who happened to have the 30 per month plan before the change, so they grandfathered me into the same price ($0.40 a song, which isn’t even the best bargain by old eMusic standards), but I frankly think it’s bullshit that they did it just for the 30 plan and not for a) the longtime users of the service and b) the users with the most expensive plans. If they had to because of some contract agreement, they could have at least told users upfront what was happening.

    • C.M. Wilcox says:

      I didn’t realize they were grandfathering anyone, though I guess 30 for $12 versus 24 for $12 probably isn’t that big of a deal to them. They’re still offering some of the best deals – especially with the new album pricing they’ve introduced – but they’ve narrowed the gap to the point where now I have to shop around a bit more. And I don’t feel the same loyalty to them, knowing that loyalty apparently isn’t something their new business model rewards.

      The Sony additions are basically all the same albums available through record clubs at comparable prices, making for a new mongrel creature called eMusic + BMG Music Service.

      • Leeann Ward says:

        As I’ve said before, I’m extremely unimpressed with this new development at Emusic…for the exact reasons you outline here. For now, I’ve cancelled my emusic subscription, which was the same as yours, since all of my music is backed up in multiple places.

  2. Matt B. says:

    I definitely see the arguments levied here and while I will have to pay double to get about the same amount of downloads I paid for (I was granfathered in at 65 downloads for my 16 bucks a month), I see the value of the sony catalog being there, even if I will still get more indie stuff. I guess I just don’t see their ‘partnership’ with sony as anything but a way to grow their service, like all businesses do.

    Also, I’m not exactly the biggest lover of “all things indie” and figure I lost my ‘hipster card’ the minute I started to like even half of what mainstream country music feeds audiences, particularly the singles from Gloriana and Love and Theft.

  3. Leeann says:

    Ah. I’m going to have to admit that I’m a sucker for Emusic. I cancelled, but then joined again. I just couldn’t help it. I’ve even gotten parts of that Sony catalog that I lamented; the stuff that I wouldn’t have otherwise purchased if I had to pay full price, such as a Charlie Daniels Greatest Hits and Montgomery Gentry’s first album. I even bought Patty Loveless’ Dreamin’ My Dreams again, as my initial copy had that annoying protection thing that wouldn’t allow us to transfer it to mp3 players.

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