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Subscription service eMusic cozying up to majors, strikes deal with Sony*


Major labels seem to be getting more comfortable with the idea of subscription services.

This morning, eMusic revealed that it will now carry catalog tracks from Sony Music Entertainment. The deal gives eMusic subscribers access to content from all the Sony labels, including Columbia, Epic, Jive and RCA, among others.

From the Clash to Bruce Springsteen to OutKast, the deal will cover music that's two years old or older. The company says the Sony catalog will start hitting the site later this year.

Previously an indies-only service, eMusic made an effort this morning to qualm any fears that it would soon become a major label club, promising to seek out the "connections between the small indie records that we live and die by and the big classic records that got us so into music in the first place."

But there already are some changes.

Dealing with the big boys, so to speak, has brought a slight pricing structure change to eMusic's subscription plans. The basic offering long allowed users to download 30 songs for $11.99, and that's now been altered to 24 songs for the same price. The company's "eMusic plus" tier now offers 35 downloads for $15.98, as opposed to 50 downloads for $14.99.

The New York Times had a story to coincide with the timing of the press release, and spoke with  eMusic's chief executive, Danny Stein. He tells the paper that a number of the independent labels that use eMusic had been asking the  company to raise its prices.

Indeed, long term, making concessions to the majors may just help eMusic secure more selections from the indie sector as well. Not all indie labels are down with the subscription model, as evidenced by the fact that 2009 albums from such acclaimed artists as St. Vincent, Neko Case and Grizzly Bear are not available. An increase in content may counteract any fears about a raise in price, as even with the changes eMusic still offers downloads at closer to 50 cents per track, rather than the more common 99 cents.

Additionally, the eMusic/Sony deal is the latest sign that labels are gradually warming to the subscription model. Earlier this year, Best Buy-owned Napster unveiled a new subscription tier, offering unlimited streams and five downloads per month at a cost of $5 per month.

--Todd Martens

Photo: Outkast, Andre 3000, left, and Big Boi. Credit: Associated Press

Update: An earlier version of this post noted that the Sony catalog would hit eMusic on or after July 1. This was based on a posting on the eMusic blog 17 Dots. The company now says it cannot confirm the date at which the Sony content will roll-out.

Comments () | Archives (4)

Well, emusic SUBSCRIBERS are in open revolt... read the comments section below the following post by emusic's CEO regarding the addition of Sony et al and the associated, instantaneous, near-DOUBLING of subscription rates:


"slight increase" ?!?

Apparently you didn't do your homework. Many members are facing a 100% plus increase. i'm guessing you fell for eMusic's PR BS. They quote the few subscriptions with the smallest increases and say, see... it's not so bad.

It's a rather steep hike for a change I'd be fine without. I have been able to download new indie releases the day they came out, and now I'm supposed to pay either 50% more or receive a third less downloads so I can have access to Sony product that is at least 2 years old? "Cheaper than iTunes" seems to be the new mantra. It's a shame. Apparently 75 percent of the emusic cataloge has been downloaded at least once, which is pretty amazing, and probably due to their current pricing. Those days are sadly coming to an end.

Please do further research; long-term members on grandfathered (no longer available to new members) plans are seeing significantly larger price increases than you cite here.

I, for example, currently pay $0.24 per track, but will soon be changed $0.46 per track, which is just shy of double the price.

Where I formerly bought 600 songs annually at $143.90, I will now lose 180 of those tracks a year for a plan that gives me 420 downloads for $191.80.

It's a classic case of less product for more money, but to add insult to injury, Emusic has not been particularly forthcoming to members about the monetary side of the changes. For example, a member can always compare their plan to other subscription plans on a page that shows overall cost, downloads, and cost per track. That helpful comparison, however, is not shown for the pricier plans users soon be bumped into, a telling omission.

Mr. Stein's announcement rambled a justification of mainstream music rather than mentioning the price hikes. This whole business has a sneaky, backdoor feel that has offended users more than a simple price hike would have. Had Emusic declared an increase and cited the independent labels that have long asked them for a larger profit margin, the backlash wouldn't be newsworthy.


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