I used to love eMusic. It is a subscription service offering a number of mp3 downloads for a monthly fee.
They had to cancel my membership a couple of years ago when they stopped supporting my preferred payment method. That has now changed and in response to their relentless emails I've been considering a return.
When I joined (about 3 years ago) I chose a UK price plan (no longer available) offering 90 downloads per month for £14.99. That was 17p per mp3.
The sound quality was often good but variable. At that price point I didn't mind. The joy of eMusic was to treat it as a trial of new music and recommendations of other users. I would often find something new and this would lead me to want to buy it again on CD to a) have a decent quality recording without the lossy compression of mp3 and, to a much lesser extent, b) to help reward the artist more financially than their cut of 17p provided.
It also led to buying concert tickets and other music from the artists I discovered.
This might not have been eMusic's business model but is how it worked for many of their customers.
It isn't the most straightforward consumer experience. If you miss your quota of downloads in a month they don't carry over. It takes a bit of effort and the most likely market to embrace this is the committed independent music lover. A perfect fit.
Now, it has all changed. It would appear that the business isn't working maybe as services which offer music discovery as their intention rather than consequence - Pandora and last.fm have stolen eMusic's thunder.
Even three years ago legal mp3 purchases were a rarity. Not now, as the music industry has finally accepted that copy protection of DRM punishes the honest purchasers of music. We now have DRM free tracks on iTunes and mp3s for sale a la carte just about everywhere. No doubt this has hurt eMusic too.
Whatever the reason the price point is now far less attractive. As The Register has highlighted the UK price plans now range from 24 songs per month at £9.99 to 30 per month at £17.99. So, from 17p per track to 38p in the space of three years and now only a third of the total number of songs available to me each month, limiting the discovery aspect of the service.
Not that the pricing is obvious. Their price plans are not mentioned on the home page and you have to enter your personal details before you can choose a plan. All they have is a carrot and stick approach of a no-commitment free introductory offer. Not enough now for people to stick around I suspect.
The forthcoming inclusion of some major label music (songs on Sony that are two years old) is likely to have no effect on the existing user base (who like their indie experimenting) as many of the user comments on the eMusic employees blog seem to bear out.
Many are angry that their loyalty is forgotten (many of the long standing plans are being cancelled and some customers are losing 2/3rds of their monthly quota) and I have to wonder if eMusic really understands their customers at all. The whole trial and experimentation nature of the site is now lost for me. P2p services, including legal streaming services such as Spotify and the likes of last.fm now seem more attractive.
A shame, but I feel this is the beginning of the end of this once great service. Sorry eMusic but you can stop with the emails now. I won't be coming back.