Lots of bitterness out there about how today marks the end of the all-you-can-eat $9.95 music download program at emusic.com. As of today, your ten bucks “only” buys you forty tracks/month, i.e. 3-4 albums.
I was turned on to emusic days after starting to poke around the iTunes Music Store, and quickly discovered that not only was emusic much cheaper than ITMS, but it also had a catalog more in line with my tastes. Like most emusic users, I went on a month-long download binge after the announcement that the business model would change to resemble something remotely profitable. Today we are returned forcibly to our senses.
When you buy a CD or LP in meatspace, it’s a conscious choice, an investment. Assuming your choice was a good one, you listen to the recording dozens or hundreds of times, digging the artist’s work the way it was meant to be dug. In constrast, no one can possibly digest the unlimited amount of music one finds on a service like emusic. Greed, plus the collector’s urge to stockpile a massive MP3 collection mean that users replace genuine music appreciation with senseless hoarding. The compulsive MP3 collector trades depth for breadth, substance for quantity.
Of course, I know plenty of people who are serious music heads and who also have massive MP3 collections. MP3 hoarding does not make you musically shallow. But there are only so many hours in a day. Looked at another way: Even before MP3s, my personal LP and CD collection was large enough that I could go a year or two without repeating a track, assuming I had time to play a few albums per day. With MP3s, I could potentially go forever, because the collection always grows faster than my ability to digest it properly.
Once upon a time, getting a new album or two was an event. That album or artist consumed my attention for days or even weeks, and became indelibly associated with a passage in life. Getting a new album meant something. Today, I wake up in the morning to find 10 new albums on my hard drive. Newly acquired tracks are tiny blips on the radar. Even new albums I really love fail to make much of a dent in the consciousness; there’s just too much. Skipping stones, skimming the surface of the music universe. And yet I am still compelled to download 160 albums from emusic in a month. Why? Because of curiosity. Because I can. Because both giant hard drives and bandwidth are cheap. Because it’s a sickness.
The traditional music industry is unique in that its product can’t easily be sampled before purchase. A service like the old-school emusic lets you “graze” all you want, discard what you don’t like. Grazing is what makes MP3 music collecting fundamentally different from plumbing the record store. By that logic, emusic’s change of business plan is tantamount to the death of the service, as many people see it.
But not to me. The 30-second online previews you get at both ITMS and at emusic are usually enough to satisfy the grazing need. But beyond that, I think $10 for 40 tracks is a totally fair price. Yes, it’s more expensive than a P2P network. But I also get full, not partial albums. I get the cover art. I get a bit of editorial to give context to lesser-known artists. I get music recommendations that work, a place to stash music I’m contemplating, and I get the satisfaction of knowing I haven’t violated copyright. It’s a good price for a good service.
The way I see it, we’re saving $30-$40/month by not having a cable or dish hookup. We save more by not doing the cell phone thing (we have a 10-minute-per-month cell plan for emergencies only). I can easily justify the cost of emusic. It makes me smile, keeps me exposed to good music, and is still a way better deal than ITMS. I’m keeping my subscription.