Emusic, How Much Money Do They Really Need?

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/rossinabossio Creative Commons License

Just a bit of interesting yet slightly distressing news today. In a deal that is the first of it’s kind, Emusic has come to an agreement with Sony to include their back catalog that is over 2 years old to be included in emusic’s non DRM a la carte monthly download service.
When I initially heard this news, I was quite pleased.  Large record labels have seemed to be quite skeptical in the past about the financial viability of non-DRM download services.  But you can’t argue with the numbers.  Emusic has over 400,000 subscribers and even at a conservative guestimation are bringing in over 3 million a month.  The main complaint that I’ve had with their service ( I was a member for over 2 years) was that after I was finished getting all the cool independent and obscure stuff I wanted, that there were a lot of mainstream things that you couldn’t get on emusic.  I’m sure this causes a lot of fluctuation in business, and often people will let their account drop for a few months while new tracks are added.

This is why I was initially excited for them.  Having all of Sony’s back catalog over 2 years old means they will be about to have a lot more mainstream stuff such as Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, etc.  But upon hearing that part of the deal was that they would raise their prices and offer less downloads in their monthly packages, I started to get angry.  How much money does one company need?  Why does every download service, especially one that is growing and doing well, have to try and compete with itunes? And, When a company is doing well, what is the pull to sell your soul in order to make more money?  If you are struggling, I might be able to understand.  But 400,000 subscribers a month?

The bigger, better, faster, more scenario doesn’t seem to work in my mind.  I hearken back to days of old when Mom and Pop shops lined the streets of the small town in which I grew up.  They served a loyal community of buyers, they made enough money to survive, and they stayed in business.  In days of most people in small town America owning a car, and Super Walmart and all that, this model clearly no longer exists…except for pockets in very rural loyalist communities in the US.  So the question is, am I up in arms over something that needs to happen?  Do emusic NEED to play in the majors in order to stay alive in the future?  Or could they continue to exist on 3 million a month and growing?

According to quotes from several articles that I’ve read, they were intending to raise prices anyway and just looking for a good excuse to do it, and that’s fine.  But don’t expect hardcore emusic loyalists to understand why you now have much more to offer so are deciding to charge more and offer less.  That’s called greed, and it’s something that has fueled the music business since it was a business.  It’s also the thing that many of the indie artists that have stood by you from the beginning are trying to fight against.  Just a little something to think about.

Earthtimes Article

New York Times

Music Ally

6 comments to “Emusic, How Much Money Do They Really Need?”

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  1. I like the connection you’ve drawn between digital facilitators of ‘cottage industry’ and the old time high street with lots of little stores. While eMusic’s focus was on meeting the needs/demands of its indie customers, it was easier for them to a) brand themselves as the thinking person’s alternative to iTunes, but also to keep the pricing low enough to be an enticement to buy indie music over mainstream… that was half the attraction. If I was going to buy some big name album from iTunes for £8, how much better would it be to spend that £8 in eMusic subs and get 3 or 4 indie records. It made me experimental, it gave me a connection to the artists, and a portal to find artists that were connnected.

    The Sony deal, as you say, could have been great for the catalogue, but it should def. have been on ‘our’ ie indie music’s terms – if Sony want to buy in, great, if not, piss off and stick with your iTunes…

    Given that Spotify is offering listeners in europe access to so much music in exchange for ad-time, the idea of increasing the price of a subscription music service seems risky at best, and downright insane at worst…

    Great post!

  2. Thanks Steve! I have a lot of fears about this…like Sony protecting it’s interest by making sure the things in their catalogue are always the ones on the front page and burying all the indie stuff at the bottom. In some ways it could be seen as a way to make more money for the indie artist by bringing in more revenue and more subscribers but what good will that do if you have to sift through a back catalogue hundreds of thousands if not millions of songs to get to the the stuff underneath?

  3. Interesting – I was clueless about emusic. Amazon can give you front-page suggestions based on the stuff you like. I suspect that emusic could do the same, based on past history, demographics, etc. (believe me, big brother is watching all of us in many ways that are sometimes disturbing). Indie music shouldn’t be buried to users who like that kind of thing. With the right technology, you and Steve wouldn’t perceive a difference, since the “view” you’d get to the site would be the same, right? Similarly, new users who show up on emusic to find Michael Jackson would be happy to see that. I suspect your feedback would be useful to their marketing people.

  4. The Sony deal seems like the beginning of the end to me, though I really hope I’m wrong.

    I’ve had an eMusic account since 2006 ( I was a founder subscriber), and have been absolutely *enthralled* at some of the more obscure stuff they have available for download that’s difficult, if not downright impossible, to find elsewhere.

    They ought to leave the major label releases to iTunes and Amazon, where I rarely spend money. If others want to buy “commercial” music, they’re there already.

    And we should consider going back to look at the continuing musical output of the demoscene, which is where a number of high quality musicians who ended up on eMusic started out. And to folks like yourselves on ReverbNation, of course. And to archive.org. And Jamendo. There remain free, high quality alternatives.

    But it’s also worth noting that my Amie Street account may be getting used more a little often in the future…

  5. Hadn’t looked into eMusic yet, and had shamefully not been keeping up on your music lately… lately being a loooooooooong time. As I began to browse your website, looking for music, and happenings, and what is this Baby Flapjack nonsense? A baby?! And one year old?! It has been a long time.

    Love the newer stuff, by the way, of course, as if I wouldn’t.

    And now to the article… (I have a habit of digressing)

    I agree, seems scary. Haha… hahahahahahahah! Laughing at myself. Just saw the date on the last post (2009!).

    So I guess I should just ask, how did it go?

    The one thing it made me think of is http://www.imdb.com. This is a great site for mainstream movies, and I sift through this site alllllll the time… for years. And it was only within the last few months that I realized they had a “indie film” section.

    It’s like a newspaper, the more money you have, the bigger advertisement you can buy.

    It’s just a shame that a business can start with a focus on indie stuff, and then forget themselves and forget the purpose.

    Tisk, tisk on them.

    And tisk, tisk on me for being behind the times.

  6. My link on that last one was bad… silly me. I’m on a roll.

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American born Lobelia isn’t just your typical singer-songwriter. A multi-instrumentalist who worked as a studio musician for 10+ years, she has won multiple awards for her songwriting, has been featured in Billboard Magazine, and was one of the original Women of MP3.COM in the early days of the Internet. In the UK for 10+ years now, she hosts several acclaimed songwriter nights at Tower of Song, shortlisted by the PRS as one of Birmingham’s best small venues. She can sometimes be seen performing with celebrated solo? bassist, Steve Lawson. (aka Mr. Lo)An advocate for sustainable touring, she travels the world performing at house concerts and small venues.