Monday, October 13, 2014

Rocktober: The Rise and Fall of eMusic

eMusic might not see the dawn of 2016.

I've been a loyal member of the online music club since 2009, paying them $12/month, plus another $20-30/year for extra purchases, and have never been anything but complimentary of their business. The occasional technological glitch is counterbalanced by an attentive and responsive customer service model.

When I joined, eMusic prided itself on being a hub of independent music and castaways, a sort of hipster online Columbia House. Everything was done in credits instead of dollar amounts, and the selection forced a mainstream-loving guy like myself to stretch my tastes and take chances. The business took a leap and opened its doors to the bigger music groups -- Sony, Universal, Warner -- offering most new releases at lower cost than Amazon or iTunes. While this decision kept a customer like me from moving on from inevitable boredom, it angered their indie distributors, many of whom backed out, and their indie-loving collectors, who backed out in response.

eMusic gambled on getting more customers like me -- loser sellouts with questionable and easily-manipulated musical tastes -- at the cost of guys who prefer vinyl, don't use deodorant, and insult all bands who have been heard of by people living in more than a single state.

Two weeks ago, I signed into my eMusic account, something I do once every week, on Tuesday evenings. My monthly account was set to wrap up in the coming days, so it was time to find some music. Except I was greeted with a message, the Cliff's Notes version of which goes like this:

"Effective immediately, we will no longer carry 92% of the music you'd marked as wanting to buy. Instead, we will return to our roots and only provide independent music you've never heard of. Have a nice day."

I put my account on hold two days later. Ninety days from now, my five-year membership in eMusic will likely be done.

You can never go home again. I don't care if Thomas Wolfe says it, or if Battlestar Galactica names an episode after it. In the world of business, once you grow, or attempt to grow, you cannot shrink. It doesn't work with shirts, or with skins, or with online music clubs. (Or record stores, bookstores, restaurants, clothing stores, or bars.) Backpedaling signifies the moment you've dug your own grave deeply enough that you can no longer crawl back out. And unless someone comes along who can pull you out, you'll be in that hole 'til you starve to death or give up.

For the company's sake, I hope I'm wrong. I hope they reconfigure their payroll and their budget, and enough VIP indie labels return to them, and enough unbathed hipster music lovers rejoin their ranks, that they maintain a sustainable business model. eMusic will never be a BFD, but world domination should never have been in eMusic's mission statement to begin with.

I wish them well as we part ways. It's the kind of breakup that good indie songs are made of, where I'll remember our time together fondly, and where I'll hope they find whatever it is they're seeking for meaning and purpose, and maybe, who knows, our paths will cross again down the road.

1 comment:

troutking said...

Interesting. You are right about the capitalist/consumptionist model that pervades the economy and our society that expanding is always good. Well, it might be good for the economy, but it's not good for the environment or, often, quality of life. I know for sure that Uno's Pizza was a whole lot better at it's original Chicago location than it is in strip malls around the country. Probably also the perception of shrinking lends an air of collapse that hastens exactly that occurence. There are a few examples of, say, restaurants that expanded and then retrenched to their original location, but probably not many on the model you are talking about. St. Michaels College in Vermont is attempting to brace for the coming shakedown in higher ed by getting smaller. It will be interesting to see if that works. Here's the link: