Denki News

July 31, 2006

iTunes Music Store Special Report, Part 5: eMusic — A DRM-less Alternative

Filed under: iPod & iTunes — icruise @ 9:32 am

As I suggested in Part 2 of this series, Apple probably didn’t have any other choice but to use DRM for their downloads when they were setting up the iTunes Music Store. The music industry was paranoid enough about piracy that they would never have let their top artists’ music appear in digital form if it wasn’t somehow tied to the purchaser. But since then at least one major music store that does not use any DRM in their music has appeared — I tried this site out recently, and here are my impressions. (More after the jump.)

The main thing you should know about eMusic is that they have a very limited selection compared to iTunes. Or perhaps I should say that while they have a fairly large selection to choose from (around a million songs), most of these songs are not from the top-selling artists that you might expect to find on an online music store. For example, I tried searching eMusic for the top 10 artists on the iTMS, and found none of them. I tried searching for some of my favorite artists (for example, Morrissey, the Pet Shop Boys, and Bruce Hornsby). There was no Morrissey, a couple of very questionable Pet Shop Boys tribute albums with someone else singing all of Neil Tennant’s vocals, and one Bruce Hornsby album (Big Swing Face). By contrast, the iTMS has 25 Morrissey albums (including EPs and singles), 26 Pet Shop Boys albums, and 10 Bruce Hornsby Albums. Admittedly, some of these are the dreaded “Partial Albums” (albums for which you can only download some of songs) but that’s still a huge difference. If you only like mainstream music, you may not like eMusic.

However, eMusic is not completely without major artists. They have Bjork, for example, and The White Stripes. I was also pleased to see that they have Sufjan Stevens, Grandaddy. Still, the biggest problem with eMusic might be finding things that you want to buy, since there is a lack of familiar names. That’s not to say that the music from these lesser known artists isn’t good, but it does take more time and effort to find things you like if you can’t rely on familiar artists.

This is a problem, because eMusic does not sell music in the same way as the iTMS. Instead of selling songs or albums “a la carte” at a fixed price, eMusic sells you what they call a “subscription.” I use quotes here, because this is not the same kind of subscription that many other music stores use. Rather than “renting” your music by the month as with some subscriptions, eMusic sells you a certain number of song downloads per month. The songs you download are yours to keep, but you have to use up your allotted number of song downloads each month or you will lose them. It’s a lot like a cell phone subscription plan, only with song downloads instead of minutes. The subscription plans are as follows:

eMusic Basic
40 Song Downloads per month
$9.99 per month ($0.25 per song

eMusic Plus
65 Song Downloads per month
$14.99 per month ($0.23 per song)

eMusic Premium
90 Song Downloads per month
$19.99 per month ($0.22 per song)

So you can spend from $9.99 to $19.99 a month to get a pack of song downloads that you have to use during that month. You don’t have to keep the subscription for any period of time though, unless you choose a year-long plan. If you want to buy more songs than are provided for in your monthly allotment, you can buy a “booster pack” that includes 10, 25, or 50 songs, for $4.99, $9.99 or $14.99. (That works out to around $0.49, $0.39, or $0.29 per song.) This system is really not very convenient and seems to be designed to force you to buy more songs than you really want. You might find yourself downloading some songs that you don’t particularly want just because you would lose the download credits at the end of the month and you can’t find anything else you like. This is particularly true if you like to buy your music by the album, like I do.

Speaking of albums, there is no discount for buying entire albums like you have on the iTMS. Much has been made of iTunes’ $0.99 per song price, but if you buy songs by the album it isn’t unusual to get 15 or even 20 songs for $9.99, making your per-song price $0.50 or lower. On eMusic, while you can download entire albums at once if you use their download software, you still have to use a download credit for each song on the album. This makes albums with lots of short songs comparitively bad buys.

You can preview 30 second clips of songs on eMusic just as you can on the iTMS, but since eMusic is web-based, the previews come in the form of .m3u files that point a digital music player (like iTunes) to the stream on eMusic’s site. Again, having to use another program just to preview music is not all that convenient.

As I mentioned above, eMusic files have no DRM — they are in fact, simple variable bit rate MP3 files. They can be burned to CD, converted to other formats, played on the iPod or other music players — anything you can do with MP3 files, you can do with these (including sharing them). They don’t have any album artwork included, although you can add it yourself easily enough using iTunes. You can download individual songs directly from the web site, or you can use their eMusic Download Manager software (available for both Windows and Mac OS X) to queue downloads of many songs (such as entire albums). One nice difference between eMusic and the iTMS is that you can re-download the songs you’ve downloaded in the past without any penalty. They also have a free song available every day, as opposed to one or two on the iTMS.

So that’s eMusic in a nutshell. If you want to try a free trial, go to and try it out for 30 days. You’ll get 25 free downloads for your trial. If you don’t like eMusic, just quit and you can keep the music. If you decide to stay, you’ll be charged for whatever subscription you choose. The lack of mainstream artists means that it won’t pose much of a threat to iTunes for the title of top online music store, but it can work well as a secondary source of music for people who like to download a lot of music every month. For about the cost of one CD, you can download dozens of tracks each month and discover a lot of music you may never have been exposed to otherwise.


1 Comment »

  1. “There is no discount for buying entire albums like you have on the iTMS.”Last I checked, an album on the iTunes Music Store costs $9.99, the price of 40 tracks on eMusic. Discount or not, eMusic is a much better deal, even if you don’t use all of your downloads every month.The main thing you should know about eMusic is that they have a very limited selection compared to iTunes.A more apt way of saying this would be that eMusic does not include any music from the big four major music labels (Sony/BMG, AOL/Time Warner, EMI, and Universal). They do, however, feature nearly every prominent independent label that comes to mindThese include:*Matador (Interpol, Belle & Sebastian, Cat Power)*Merge (Arcade Fire, Dinosaur Jr, M. Ward)*Anti-/Epitaph (Neko Case, Tom Waits, Elliot Smith)*Fantasy Jazz (Miles Davis, Bill Evans, John Coltrane)*Stax (Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding)*V2 (White Stripes, Moby, The Raconteurs)*Drag City (Silver Jews, Royal Trux, Edith Frost)*SST (Black Flag, Husker Du, Minutemen)While none of these artists burned up the charts in recent times (or ever), they are identifyable to anyone with more than a casual interest in music.An incidental result of joining eMusic has been that independent music is a much greater value than that which comes out on one of the big four labels. And while this doesn’t pose a threat to iTunes, it does pose a threat to the way the big four labels choose to do business.

    Comment by Elijah Meyer — September 7, 2006 @ 2:58 pm

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