Seven days of plenty: how extra downloads changed my eMusic habits

My eMusic Connoisseur package has significantly changed the way I get music from the online store. Having 300 downloads per month rather than 90 has had two major effects. First, I take more risks. I used to be defensive about my downloads: 'I only have 90 until next month, so I should use them wisely'. However, 300 is a large enough number to reverse that thinking: how am I going to use all these downloads'. So I download albums out of curiosity. I pick up things I might not have bothered with otherwise. If the album is disappointing, it makes no difference because I won't miss the downloads I used on it. But if it's great - as Andrew Bird's latest is - it's a huge bonus.

Second, I have to pace myself. On the old plan I'd eagerly wait for my downloads to refresh and then gorge myself on the whole load at once. It's just not possible to take in 300-tracks worth of music in a single sitting like that. Basically I can download 10 tracks - about an albums-worth - every day. In practical terms, it's a limitless supply of music.

Well, almost limitless. The biggest problem with eMusic remains the range of artists and albums on offer. Daft rights deals mean you can find an album you really want only to click through and be faced with the message "We're sorry. This album is unavailable for download in your country (United Kingdom) at this time. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause."

Strangely, the Andrew Bird album that I downloaded at the end of March is now not available to UK users. Did eMusic allow me to download it by mistake or have the rights changed that quickly? eMusic needs to keep the pressure on labels to fix this problem. Holding an album back from internet sale doesn't encourage people to go and buy it on CD, it encourages them to download it from a filesharing site.

I realise that my appetite for new music is unusually high. Still I wonder what would happen to the music industry if everyone paid a monthly subscription that would allow them to access as much music as they could ever want.

eMusic introduces 'Connoisseur' packages

I've been moaning about eMusic in recent posts but they just made me an offer I couldn't refuse. In a good way. eMusic has introduced a range of Connoisseur packages that allow hardcore music fans to download even more tracks every month. They're only offering the packages to "loyal" subscribers, according to the email I got so I'm not sure how many people are getting these offers.

Members in the UK can choose from three new packages: 100 tracks per month for £19.99 ($24.99 in the US), 200 tracks per month for £39.99 ($49.99 in the US) or 300 tracks per month for £59.99 ($74.99 US).

I chose the 300 per month package, which is slightly insane. That's 10 new tracks every day! Will I even have time to listen to all that or will I drown in a flood of new music? I figure there are worse ways to go and I'm happy to pay just to have the option to download 300 tracks a month.

From eMusic's point of view, this is great business. I was paying 14p per track and eMusic has now got me paying 19p per track. Not only that but there's a good chance that I won't download my allocation every month. Every track that I don't download is more profit for eMusic. It's a wonder they didn't think of this sooner.

Still, for me the deal is still a good one. I have access to, in effect, more music than I can listen to and I'm paying far less to do it than I would if I was buying CDs.

A raw deal from eMusic

I thought this would happen. eMusic is cutting the number of downloads European customers get every month, just as they did with American customers last year. Instead of the current top subscription plan, which gets me 90 tracks per month for £12.78 (that's a special price I get for being a customer before they came to Europe, new customers pay £14.99 per month), from February 20 new eMusic customers will get just 75 tracks for the same price. In real terms the price goes up from 14p per track to 17p per track.

Basic subscribers, who pay £8.99, will get 30 monthly downloads instead of the previous 40 - that's an increase from 22p per track to 29p per track. Subscribers to the Plus plan will get 50 tracks instead of 65 for their £11.99 fee - that's 23p a track rather than 18p.

However, it's the cut to the number of tracks that bothers me, not the cost. Having 90 tracks available every month gives customers the opportunity to experiment. Each month I take a risk on a couple of albums. When those risks pay off I end up buying even more music as a result, which benefits eMusic. New customers will have less opportunity for that kind of experimentation.

Sure you can top up your eMusic subscription with 'booster packs' but the cheapest of these works out at 27p per track - double the current price and that's assuming the price stays the same after February.

If you're thinking of joining eMusic my advice would be to join before February 20. After that? Well, I'm not sure I'd recommend it. Amazon may have their store up-and-running soon and, if it's DRM-free, they could be a better bet. I think I'll take it but I'm disappointed in eMusic. I thought they were more forward-looking than this.

Update: Thanks to Dana (see comments below) who points out that these changes do not affect existing customers. I've re-written the post to reflect that.

Bad business

I'm disappointed to hear that eMusic is cutting the number of tracks US subscribers are allowed to download each month. No word yet on whether the European service, which launched only recently, will follow suit. I hope not. Psychologically, I don't like the idea of getting less for the same price. For some reason I would be happier to pay more for the same number of downloads. Obviously, it makes no difference.

In an ideal world they would be increasing the number of tracks you can download and keeping the price the same. As Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing says:

After all, when you're selling something inherently experimental (like new music, or new electronic services), it makes sense to keep the cost of experimentation as low as possible.

It's the opportunity for experimentation that keeps me coming back to eMusic but at some point prices will reach a level where the deal is no longer attractive. eMusic still has the best business model of any online music store but surely the best way for them to increase profitability would be to make the offer more tempting and attract new subscribers rather than milk - and possibly drive away - the existing ones.

eMusic crosses the Atlantic

Since the beginning of the year I've been using eMusic for music downloads. It's a great service and one that tackles many of the problems with the record industry's increasingly moribund business model: for a monthly fee you get a fixed number of downloads and the music is DRM-free. The top subscription, which I have, costs $19.99 (£10.57) for 90 tracks per month. I can easily download 90 tracks in a day and then spend the rest of the month waiting for my subscription to renew. Their catalogue is based entirely on independent labels and they tend to cater for the more obscure end of the market but that suits me just fine.

Since I joined I've been collecting the stunning Ethiopiques series of albums as well as some cracking electronica and a few classics.

Last week eMusic opened European and UK stores. The good news is that this has made more tracks available. Some artists will only license their work in the UK or Europe so these can now be added to the site. UK subscribers can now get recordings from the Domino or XL catalogues, for example. The bad news is that the prices have gone up, mostly because of VAT and other taxes that Americans don't have to worry about.

Instead of £10.57 per month I'll now pay £12.78, which is a discount rate eMusic are giving to those who were subscribers before the switch. They say it's the same rate as before but with 17.5 per cent VAT added. I'm told I can keep this rate as long as I keep my subscription "active and in good standing". What does 'good standing' mean?

New UK subscribers will pay £14.99 per month and new European subscribers will pay €20.99 (£14.12). The Swindleeeee!!!!! blog has a full breakdown of price increases.

Still I don't mind the price increase. Thirteen quid for 90 tracks is still phenomenally good value and as long as eMusic doesn't bring in DRM I'll remain a customer.