Friday Five: an open letter to eMusic

Blogger’s note: Today’s Friday Five has nothing to do with higher ed, but a lot to do with marketing, public relations and brand management.

Dear eMusic:

I’ve been a member of your subscription-based independent music service for five years now, and I’ve usually been pleased with your service and offerings — even when you bumped your prices that one time. More than that, though, I’ve come to appreciate what you stand for. (Or, maybe, what you once stood for.)

  1. You thumbed your nose at the mass music world of big labels and iTunes, offering music fans an alternative.
  2. While the RIAA bigs were pushing to limit mp3 usage by DRM (digital rights management) encoding, you stuck with your DRM-free philosophy. You sold the music, and didn’t interfere with your customers’ right to use the tunes as they wished.
  3. You offered decent, rare and eclectic music on the cheap. Very, very cheap.
  4. Unlike other pay-per-download services, you offered a menu of subscription plans, giving listeners options on number of downloads per month at different, very reasonable pricing.
  5. You built a brand as — in your words — “the internet’s corner music store.” You were a kind of virtual Empire Records that “offers a deeper, more personal alternative to mass market digital music retailers.”

You were punk, and then you got popular. You gained a big following — 400,000 members strong.

You built a brand out of sticking it to the man.

But now it’s sounding like you’re sticking it to us, your loyal customers.

Earlier this week, you announced you had struck a deal with one of the music giants, Sony, to add their back catalog to your service. I have mixed and conflicted feelings about that move. Yes, it’s cool to know that you’ll be carrying some of my all-time favorite artists — the Clash, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith and others (whose back catalog I happen to already own, thankyouverymuch) — but by letting Sony in, you’re on the way to squeezing the little guys out, and you’re losing that “corner music store” vibe that forms your core.

If this were the only thing you were changing about your service, I might be able to roll with it. But what really sticks in my craw is that because of this new deal, you’re changing your subscription and fee structure, effectively doubling the cost of the mp3s for your customers.

So, instead of 65 tunes a month for $14.99, I’ll now get 37 downloads for that same price, effective in July.

I can hear the iTunes subscribers now: “Get over it, tightwad. So you’ll be paying 41 cents a download instead of 23 cents. You’re still getting music cheap.”

The fact that eMusic has offered such a great deal as compared to iTunes — and will continue to do so, even with the price increase — isn’t the point.

The point is that a mainstream corporate entity has entered the game, and the price goes up.

Your CEO, Danny Stein, claims that “Independent labels and artists will continue to be eMusic’s core” and expresses his confidence that “with this enormous, ridiculous catalogue and our shared musical philosophy (listen to the good stuff, ignore the rest), it’ll be that much easier and more fun to find records, to get inspired, to get into some phase that you never expected.”

I hope that’s the case.

Still, as i think of all that’s transpired this week with eMusic, I keep thinking about these words from James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. They seem to ring truer than ever today.

Every fury on earth has been absorbed in time, as art, or as religion, or as authority in one form or another. The deadliest blow the enemy of the human soul can strike is to do fury honor. Swift, Blake, Beethoven, Christ, Joyce, Kafka, name me a one who has not been thus castrated. Official acceptance is the one unmistakable symptom that salvation is beaten again, and is the one surest sign of fatal misunderstanding, and is the kiss of Judas.

By entering the eMusic fold, is Sony actually “doing fury honor”? Or is it a brilliant marketing move that will capture some dissident iTunes shoppers who figure out they can get tunes from mainstream artists at a cheaper price from eMusic? Is the RIAA giant swallowing up the independent guy, or does the independent have the upper hand?

OK, so it’s only rock and roll. (Insert Rolling Stones quip here.)

Will i stick with your service, eMusic? Let’s see what July will bring, but yeah, I probably will. But I won’t much like it.

Andrew Careaga
eMusic member since 2004

* * * * *

This is a Friday Five, so here are the obligatory links, all about how eMusic’s PR and customer relations folks bungled this situation:

  1. One step forward, one big step back with the eMusic-Sony deal
  2. Did No One At eMusic Think About PR Impact Of Raising Prices At The Same Time Sony Signed?
  3. Ten years later crushes its brand values in one day
  4. eMusic faces PR challenge in the wake of Sony partnership, pricing announcements
  5. eMusic and Sony – It is getting worse

Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

2 thoughts on “Friday Five: an open letter to eMusic”

  1. Lest anyone think that Sony BMG is anything other than an evil corporate piece of dogcrap, remember that Sony BMG, the very company that emusic is getting in bed with (or of which it may become a subsidiary, as some have speculated), started planting a hidden, self-installing and self-hiding spyware-malware virus on their music CDs in 2005. It violated laws in multiple jurisdictions, brought multiple lawsuits, and in the end Sony was forced to remove it from their CDs. The wikipedia page on the Sony BMG rootkit disaster is here:

    It self-installed when you inserted a Sony BMG audio CD, just a regular music CD you’d buy at a record store, modified OS files and behavior to cover its tracks, was uninstallable (one of the legal violations in some jurisdictions), and worst of all, LEFT GIGANTIC SECURITY VULNERABILITIES ON YOUR COMPUTER. It was significant enough that the US Department of Homeland Security issued a directive about it (quote from wikipedia, reference URL below the quote):

    “On November 16, 2005, US-CERT, part of the United States Department of Homeland Security, issued an advisory”

    That directive is still in effect, and available here:

    To me, the words that this sort of intentional malicious criminal behavior conjures up are “cyber terrorism.” If not in intent, certainly in tactic.

    And these are the people that emusic is forcibly raping their customer base on behalf of.

    emusic should BACK THE HELL OUT OF THIS DEAL!

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