Apostasy: eMusic is better than iTMS

As a (former) professional online behavior analyst, when my own online behavior changes, I take notice. So when I realized that I am waiting for albums to become available on eMusic rather than buying them on iTunes; regularly buying several 50-tune booster packs per month; and now have a “Save for Later” list containing 47 albums, I conclude that I have developed a preference for eMusic.

What’s changed? Two things: selection and currency. eMusic has added a ton of labels recently, including Merge, Sun, Vice Recordings, the always excellent Bloodshot Records, Misra, Thirsty Ear… a bunch of indies releasing some great music. (Many of these are available on iTMS as well; more on that in a minute.) Second, new releases are now being made available through eMusic on or very close to the street date. Take a look at my purchase of Spoon’s Gimme Fiction. On the old eMusic it might have taken several months to make it there; not any more.

eMusic also, I reluctantly conclude, has a substantial navigability advantage over the iTMS. The iTunes store sometimes feels shoehorned into the iTunes interface: no browsing options other than big column lists and search; live hyperlinks for artist browsing, but not label or year; no user reviews; and so on. I’ve found more good music by browsing at eMusic in the last month than I had for the previous few on the iTMS, primarily by browsing by label, then the artist list.

Other advantages of eMusic: high bit rate MP3s (no DRM); ability to re-download purchased tracks; and price. Yeah, did I mention price? Sure, buying by the track is sometimes no bargain, but when the price is 50 tracks for $14.95, I almost don’t care, since buying the equivalent 50 tracks in the iTMS might cost me $50. If the iTMS had the songs, the convenience of buying a la carte instead of in a monthly subscription or booster pack might make it likely for me to buy there, but it’s not a lock any more, not by a long shot.

I’m not giving up on the iTMS. It’s still the only place for me to find music from most of the majors, for instance. But more often than not, I’m looking for the minors instead.

One final thought: eMusic is even gaining the edge in the “delight” factor for me. This is the technical marketing term for what happens when a business not only fulfills a customer’s expectations and requirements but surpasses them in a big way. I was trying to find a song by the Ukrainians that I had gotten on a mix tape (from Fury, as it turns out) about twelve years ago. I knew a transliteration of the title (“O Sweet Girl”) but not the original Ukrainian title, so Googling it seemed difficult. Eventually I gave up, deciding that while I might be able to find it on a peer-to-peer network, it probably wasn’t worth it. I then Googled another artist, 3 Mustaphas 3, and found a hit to them on eMusic. While it wasn’t the album I was looking for, the description of the album talked about … the Ukrainians. Sure enough, eMusic had the band, and amazingly had the exact song (“Oi Divchino”) I was looking for, which I verified by listening to the sound clip. I purchased it there, of course.

The odds that I could find the Ukrainians at the iTMS? Slim.

Hey, Apple: there’s Long Tail style profit to be made in increasing your depth in some of these indie labels. Why are they listing digital content on eMusic and not on you? And why don’t you make it easier for me to experience serendipity on the store? Is it really helpful for me to know that “Hollaback Girl” is still #1 in Today’s Top Songs? eMusic gives me tailored recommendations, not a top 10 list. Guess which one I’m more likely to buy from?