Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Wait, THAT was part of the fucking deal?!

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

So this eMusic business is way worse than I thought it was. As part of the PR rollout for the new pricing structure and the major label additions, eMusic was pimping the fact that you could download albums with more than 12 tracks but only get charged for 12 tracks. What they didn’t tell anyone (as far as I can tell, at least) is that you also get charged 12 tracks for downloading a lot of albums that are less than 12 tracks. I went to grab a Cecil Taylor record that has 2 tracks; in the good old days that would have cost me 2 downloads. Now, I have to spend 12.

This change doesn’t appear to affect all albums with fewer than 12 tracks, but it does seem to affect a solid percentage of them in a quick random check I did, including those on indie labels. This effectively completely destroys eMusic’s price competitiveness over iTunes and Amazon, as far as I’m concerned. I was definitely going to re-up my subscription when my current plan expires in October, despite all the controversy, but this might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I am really disappointed. Fuck.

eMusic about to get a lot less awesome

Monday, June 1st, 2009

eMusic recently announced that it is finally partnering with some major labels, first off all Sony, to bring some of their older back-catalogue releases to the download service. Sounds great, right? Except there’s a hitch: “minor price increases” which turn out to be not so minor at all, especially for folks who have old plans grandfathered in. Myself, for example: I currently pay $143.90 per year for 65 downloads each month. After my current plan expires, I’ll have to pay $171.99 per year for a measly 35 downloads each month. That’s something like a 220% price increase per track. Ouch. Ultimately, I will keep downloading almost exclusively stuff from indie labels, which means that the higher prices are effectively me subsidizing major labels even though I’m not benefitting from their new presence on eMusic.

So that kind of sucks (no: that totally sucks), but if it means that eMusic’s business model becomes more sustainable, I guess I can’t really complain too much. But Swindleeeee!!!!! thought of another interesting potential negative scenario:

I think the major downside other than the price increases is that people will be very mistrustful of having a repeat of the Rolling Stones fiasco. That apparently wasn’t eMusic’s fault, but if Bruce Stringsteen or whoever decides that they don’t like their music being cheapened by being sold at eMusic prices and is successful in getting it pulled, or if Sony upper management gets cold feet and decides to kill the entire deal, that’s going to leave a pretty sour taste in the mouths of eMusic subscribers, especially given that the new higher prices will likely remain in effect.

I would love it if eMusic introduced a price plan that restricted access to major label downloads but kept prices where they currently are (or with a much more modest increase). I’d sign up for that in a heartbeat.

So far I am seeing a pretty big backlash from diehard eMusic fans at places like 17 dots and, more locally, the 9:30 Club boards, with lots of folks saying they’ll cancel their subscriptions when the new pricing structure begins to affect their accounts. Wonder if it’ll be a big enough backlash to cause eMusic to reconsider?

The new Radiohead

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

A couple days ago I finally downloaded the new Radiohead album, In Rainbows. I still haven’t quite figured out what I think about their distribution method (if you’ve been living in a cave somewhere, they are offering the album as a download and allowing fans to pay whatever they want for it; a CD release isn’t coming until next year). I decided to pay… nothing. I feel okay about that for a couple reasons: point one, these are 160kbps MP3s we’re talking about here, not lossless files or even VBR MP3s; and that ties into point two, that if I like this I’ll probably go ahead and pay for the CD when it comes out. Also, these guys make a shitload of money anyway and since I have the option, I’d rather invest my music budget into bands that lose money with every record and play in shitty holes in the wall for 5 fans at a time.

Kick over any given virtual rock on the Internet and you’ll find a debate about this innovation in music distribution, so I won’t get into that here. Regarding the music itself, well, it’s okay. I probably like it more than anything they’ve done since Kid A, so that’s great, but I’m not exactly blown away. As a tangent, I find it really amusing the way that Pitchfork likes to verbally fellate this band to a ridiculous extent, giving the album a 9.3 (I honestly thought they were going to give it a 10.0 even before they ever heard it) and running like five or six news articles and full-length features about the album, in addition to the review. Sometimes that website is just absurd. In any case, In Rainbows is definitely a solid effort, if a surprisingly chilled-out one, and I’m looking forward to listening to it some more. I don’t think it’ll ever rate the equivalent of a 9.3 on my scale, though. That’s what, a Gnosis 14? No, I expect this one’s more like a strong 10.

Maybe the most fun thing about this sucker is that there’s no cover art provided, so fans have taken it upon themselves to make their own. Here’s a place with a ton of covers, some of which are really, really great. But my choice for easily the best of the bunch is this one:

Give me money

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

Shameless plug: I have some CDs for sale.

I lied about going to see Gongzilla. Apparently it was an after-party for an Umphrey’s McGee show at the 9:30 Club, and when I asked when they were going to start, the guy said, “oh I don’t know, we’re leaving it up to them.” Not a good sign. This was at the Velvet Lounge, where I didn’t get home until 2am after the Exploding Star Orchestra show. I was in no mood to be up that late again, so I bailed. Too bad, because it sounded cool — no opening band, just the Gongzilla guys playing two sets or one really long set. Oh well, I might make up for it by going to see Jesu tonight.

20 Things You Must Know About Music Online

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

Via HypeBot: a free 96-page book in PDF form, “20 Things You Must Know About Music Online.” This seems to be targeted at musicians trying to figure out how to use the Internet as a distribution mechanism for their art, but many of the concepts could apply to anyone trying to market anything using the latest Web 2.0 fads. Pretty interesting read.

The most interesting piece to me is “The Death of Scarcity.” This is a concept that the conventional music industry definitely doesn’t get:

There may have been a time where you would press a thousand copies of a CD, give away a couple of hundred as promos, and try and sell the other eight hundred. Now, you can press a thousand, give away a million, and still sell the thousand.

The death of scarcity makes a nonsense of the notion of the ‘lost sale’. If someone would never have bought your music in the first place, but acquires the music through some other means (perhaps as a recipient of one of those million promotional copies), you haven’t “lost a sale”, you’ve gained a listener.

More importantly, you’ve gained attention (remember that word — it becomes important).

Shit, no more Tzadik at eMusic

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

Doh. There have been recent rumors about various indie labels being dissatisfied with eMusic — specifically its royalty system, which according to a post today at Digital Audio Insider pays less than 28 cents per song to be split between the label and artist (and that’s much higher than I would have guessed, frankly) — and today I noticed that all the Tzadik albums are gone from the service. Bummer.

eMusic is all over the place these days — in addition to the Ars Technica and Digital Audio Insider posts, I somehow just descovered eMusic’s own staff blog, 17 dots, which highlights new music and also features a very long philosophical post from eMusic’s CEO on the state of digital music distribution and the eMusic model. Also, the music/technology/business blog HypeBot started today a four-part series on eMusic, including coverage of recent label dissatisfaction; and an old thread at I Love Music has been revived with renewed discussion over eMusic’s business model.

Whether or not said model proves to be efficacious (and, much as I love the service, their scant payouts seem to make statistics like “eMusic receives on average more than $13 per subscriber every month. Compare this with the $7 per year that iTunes receives” less than relevant), it is undoubtedly at the center of the current debate regarding the future of music distribution, especially as regards indie music, and so I’ll be following it closely.

Interesting digital music distro blog

Monday, May 7th, 2007

For those with a passing (or more than passing) interest in the frontiers of digital music distribution, I recently discovered an excellent blog, Digital Audio Insider. Provides timely news and solid analysis of trends and developments in the current changing landscape of music distribution. (I sound like I’m writing a press release.) If this is your thing, this is a blog to subscribe to for sure.

Internet radio update

Friday, May 4th, 2007

Also, there is some small good news on the Internet radio front. Basically, we now have two months to get Congress to overturn the royalty fee restructuring. There is already a bipartisan bill in the House that would do just that — HR 2060, the Internet Radio Equality Act. The SaveNetRadio Coalition has set up an excellent action alert giving step-by-step instructions on calling your representative to urge them to support HR 2060, and I strongly recommend that you do so. Working in DC for an advocacy group, I know exactly how important these kinds of phone calls are — they really do matter. So hop to it!

This Internet radio bullshit…

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

I’m just now tuning in to this really, really unfortunate controversy over Internet radio royalties. Basically, from here it looks like independent Internet radio is pretty much dead after the latest news. This is too damn bad — I was never much of a listener, but I did enjoy popping over to Aural Moon once in a while, especially for Sean Powell and Sean McFee’s shows. There are good summaries of the issue — specifically, a March ruling that would force Internet radio providers to pay massive royalty fees — at Ars Technica and Save Our Internet Radio. The following is from the latter site:

On March 2, 2007 the US Copyright Office stunned the Internet radio industry by releasing a ruling on performance royalty fees that are based exclusively on the number of people tuned into an Internet radio station, rather than on a portion of the station’s revenue… Under this royalty structure, an Internet radio station with an average listenership of 1000 people would owe $134,000 in royalties during 2007 - plus $98,000 in back payments for 2006. In 2008 they would owe $171,000, and $220,000 in 2009.

Like so many other things the RIAA has done, this doesn’t even seem to make very much long-term economic sense. If I understand this correctly, this is obviously going to drive all but the biggest corporate Internet radio sites out of the market. Unlike file-sharing, where the arguments are a bit muddier, Internet radio is a pretty obvious case of a distribution mechanism by which listeners “try before they buy” rather than simply taking and running. I can’t imagine there are many folks out there making the effort to copy low-quality Internet radio streams to MP3. Instead, they’re listening casually, hearing the occasional song they like, and then maybe buying the CD off of that experience.

All this of course is my own conjecture and based on no evidence at all, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what the industry would accomplish by condemning Internet radio to extinction. It’s true that artists and labels probably were receiving very little in the way of royalties from Internet radio, but now they’re not going to be receiving any.

Also, speaking of Aural Moon, over at their discussion forums there’s a pretty active thread on this matter.

NYT op-ed slams RIAA

Friday, April 6th, 2007

Yesterday, the New York Times published an excellent op-ed by a couple guys who owned an independent record store in NYC that went under in 2005. What’s great about this piece is that it puts forth the argument that, while downloading and file-sharing is hurting not just the major labels but also the little guys, a good portion of the blame can still be placed on big industry (RIAA being the figurehead of course) rather than the inherent selfishness or evil of consumers (the stock RIAA argument — “they don’t play by the rules and we’re the victims!” — that makes me severely uncomfortable, to say the least).

Basically, the argument is one that I’ve put forth before and read in a few other places, but rarely in so concise and cogent a form: that the record industry is guilty of mishandling the onset of new technology and basically just been flat-out stupid, not only trying to defend a technology that is over two decades old (CDs) and grossly inefficient and out of date, but actually jacking up prices on them in some cases. It’s akin to paying $5,000 for an IBM PC-AT or an Apple IIgs.

The recording industry association saw the threat that illegal downloads would pose to CD sales. But rather than working with Napster, it tried to sue the company out of existence — which was like thinking you’ve killed all the roaches in your apartment because you squashed the one you saw in the kitchen. More illegal download sites cropped up faster than the association’s lawyers could say “cease and desist.”

Also, they bemoan the record industry getting in bed with the likes of Best Buy and Wal-Mart to undercut prices, “[b]ecause, ideally, the person who came in to get the new Eagles release with exclusive bonus material would also decide to pick up a high-speed blender that frappéed.” It’s a great article, arguing that not only has the RIAA put profits before music, which is something that should surprise no one at all, but also that they’ve put short-term profits before long-term business savvy.