Tuesday, June 16, 2009

eMusic hikes prices, blames everyone else

With the price of online music rapidly approaching zero, it's something of a surprise to discover eMusic raising its prices. Apparently, it's everyone else's fault:

Danny Stein, eMusic CEO: Our existing labels, for the most part, have been asking us to raise prices for a long time. What I told the New York Times is that we were looking for a “catalyzing event” to do it. And really, the catalyzing event is adding catalog, adding more content. We used this as an opportunity to do it, but we didn’t do it because of Sony. We did it because in order to sustain the economics for our label suppliers and their artists, we needed to do it.

So it's the indie labels' fault, and Sony provided a "catalysing event" - which seems to be weasel words meaning 'a smokescreen to cover our asses'.

The thinking seems to be that users would go 'oh, we've now got access to Sony's catalogue, that's worth a few extra bucks'. Although, presumably, current eMusic subscribers have chosen eMusic quite happily without access to Sony's stuff. It's a bit like adding photos of dogs to the kitten library and trying to charge more from cat fans.

But, hey, Sony isn't all Billy Joel:
Stein: Definitely. The reality is that eMusic’s customers love music of all flavors and genres, and there are a lot of less mainstream names [artists with albums soon to be sold on eMusic as part of the deal include Captain Beefheart, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Kate Bush, Miles Davis, The Clash, Miles Davis, Franz Ferdinand, Robert Johnson, Kings of Leon, Modest Mouse, Psychedelic Furs, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Spiritualized and the Stone Roses], and this catalog is rich in jazz and classical. In addition, there are more mainstream artists who will benefit the less mainstream artists dramatically by allowing us to use our editorial expertise to compare and contextualize the lesser-known artists with the better-known artists so that the lesser-known artists have more exposure. We have a feature called “Six Degrees”…

I think the list of bands was inserted by Wired, rather than eMusic, but anyone who thinks Kings Of Leon, Kate Bush and The Clash are operating beyond the mainstream must have a pretty narrow view of what counts as mainstream.
Cathy Halgas Nevins, vice president of eMusic corporate communications: Yes, that’s going to be a new editorial feature where we’re going to take an album that might be really well known and show you some independent artists that were influenced by that record who you should know about

Hmm. I'm not sure if I had subscribed to an indie music library I'd be that excited at being told I was going to pay more for a service because it can tell you that if you like Bruce Springsteen, you might like Woody Guthrie. It's a nice feature for new subscribers, tempted in by the Sony stuff (if there are any) but I can't see existing subscribers thinking they're getting something worth the money.

And couldn't eMusic do this without the Sony catalogue? You don't actually need to have Nebraska on the site to say "if you enjoyed this record, here are some that might have been an inspiration on it."

There's also some confusion about the new 'album-download' rates:
Stein: We’ve never had album pricing before and at times that has hurt the service and the user experience. We’ve heard from our customers that for albums that may have 20 tracks, you get charged for 20 tracks. Our new pricing is simple. It’s 12 credits per album, and that’s if the album has 11 12 songs or more [Stein apparently misspoke]. Below that, it’s by track, so an album with eight regular tracks will cost eight credits [each credit costs 42, 45, or 50 cents depending on which plan you have; credits expire after 30 days]. We’ll eventually roll out some other price points for albums to give our labels more options.

Yes. That sounds like a situation that needs some more price points rather than fewer. Interesting, though, to see eMusic effectively admit that they see their role as facilitating the needs of labels rather than providing a service for their subscribers.


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