Online music store eMusic has always struggled against the iTunes, Amazon MP3s, Napsters, and RealNetworks of the world by offering literally millions of tracks from independent musicians and music distributors at cut-rate prices via a monthly subscription service. And, while many commercial digital music stores have been swallowed by the sands of time (and misbegotten DRM technologies) eMusic successfully evaded the DRM nightmare and is still going strong.
However, the lack of major label music has always hurt the services’ adoption amongst mainstream consumers…and now eMusic is looking to change that. eMusic now offers tracks from three of the four major music labels (Sony, Warner, and Universal—EMI is not on board) alongside its staple music offerings. However, there are some catches. The first is that some major music label tracks may not appear on eMusic until long after they’ve had runs on other digital music stores. The second is that eMusic is introducing a tiered pricing structure to accommodate major label tracks: where indie tunes can sell for $0.49 each, major label tracks will go for $0.69, $0.79, and even $0.89 each. And there’s another rub: eMusic will no longer let music credits accumulate: subscribers must use them within 30 days or they expire.
eMusic’s major label deals enable the service to offer newer songs from Sony Music and Warner Music Group, as well as tracks from Universal music group that are over one year old. eMusic’s pricing for these tracks can still be up to 50 percent lower than the same tracks through other online music stores—prices on Apple’s iTunes routinely hit $1.29 per song for current hits. eMusic pricing plans start at $11.99 per month.
The moves have cost eMusic some notable independent labels: according to industry reports, independent labels like Merge, Beggars Group, and Domino have withdrawn their artists from eMusic over eMusic’s business model changes. The labels represent several popular acts like Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire, and Franz Ferdinand.
There is some irony to EMI being the last hold-out from eMusic’s major label offerings: eMusic was the main music service to eschew DRM, and EMI was the first major label to agree to distribute music without DRM technology back in 2007. eMusic’s current CEO, Adam Klein, is also a former EMI executive.