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

June 1, 2009 | 12:32 pm


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.