Great independent label selection
Growing major label selection
Lower prices than competing stores
No digital rights management restrictions
Incomplete (but getting there) major label content
Upheaval in plans and pricing
$6.50/month - about $200/year
Sign Up for eMusic
There are really only three music download stores/services that iPod owners need to concern themselves with: the iTunes Store, AmazonMP3 and eMusic.com (excluding streaming services like Spotify, that is).
EMusic is the less-well-known rival to iTunes, but its affordable pricing, wide selection, and lack of digital rights management restrictions make it a terrific service that most any iPod owner should check out.
Since the last time I reviewed eMusic (fall 2009), there have been some major changes. While eMusic used to be marked by its heavy focus on indie labels and a flat-monthly-fee, instead of per-song cost, both of those features have changed.
Most notably, eMusic has changed from a credit system--your subscription level would give you a certain number of download credits each month--to a money system. Now, your subscription price translates to the amount of money you have to spend at eMusic each month. And, where songs used to cost a single download credit, pricing is now variable (as it is at iTunes and Amazon). Most individual songs now cost between US$0.49 and $0.79. While the new plans generally provide less music than the old ones, the per-song prices at eMusic continue to generally be lower than at iTunes or Amazon.
EMusic's per-album costs of between $6.99 and $9.99 are generally lower than their competitors, too.
The trade-off for this change, which occasioned a lot of unhappiness from long-time subscribers who'd already seen a lot of changes (eMusic originally offered all-you-can-download for a flat fee), was the arrival of even more major label content.
More Major Labels
While eMusic used to focus exclusively on indie labels, that's changed over the past few years. A mid-2009 update added the Sony music catalog, bringing such major artists as Bob Dylan, The Clash, Bruce Springsteen, and Run DMC. The addition of the Sony catalog has substantially improved selection at eMusic.
When the new pricing structure went into effect in fall 2010, a tremendous amount of new music from labels like Motown, Warner Bros., Atlantic, Capitol, and Elektra arrived. With the new music, eMusic's catalog of available songs jumped from 6 million songs to over 10 million. One downside of this change, though, is that some major indie labels, such as Merge, 4AD, and Matador, left the site due to the new terms, thus removing some important music from the site's catalog.
This influx of mainstream music has caused complaint among users and diluted a bit of what use to make eMusic special: its focus on indie music. Most users may not see this as a problem--after all, the prices are still good and having a bigger selection isn't bad--but if you liked the idea of the old eMusic as a haven for passionate music lovers, the new version may disappoint.
Another change with the new plans is that redownloading songs is no longer free; it now requires a second purchase. That may change, though, if eMusic introduces--as rumored--a redownload service later in 2011.
One other small note: eMusic doesn’t employ any digital rights management technology to limit how its customers use the songs they download. This is a small virtue for most users, but it’s a nice touch.
The Bottom Line
The recent changes at eMusic have increased the site's selection and continued to offer lower-than-the-competition pricing. That's the good news.
The bad news is that the selection still isn't quite as large as competing sites and something about what made eMusic a fun and special place (though perhaps also one that couldn't have stayed in business in that form) is gone.
Still, if you're a fan of indie music, a heavy downloader looking to save a little money each month, or just willing to try new artists and discover new bands to love, checking out eMusic.com via its free trial is worth your time.