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eMusic Adds Sony, But Could Pay A Price

LONDON (Hypebot) –
eMusic was founded as a fierce supporter of independent music and has continued to maintain that stance…until now. Soon eMusic's 400,000 monthly subscribers will have access to the music of Michael Jackson, Billy Joel and the others artists from Sony's deep catalog of labels including Arista, Columbia, Epic, Jive, LaFace, Legacy and RCA. The offering will be restricted to rleases more than two years old.

But the addition of Sony to eMusic comes at a price. As part of the deal, eMusic will raise prices and reduce the number of downloads on some of its plans, according to reports. It is unclear if the deal will effect eMusic's use of 25-75 free tracks to entice subscribers.

COMMENTARY: How eMusic's subscribers will react to higher prices and lower download caps is only one potential hurdle that eMuisc faces with the Sony deal. Indie labels may also react negatively to their previously indie-only club being invaded by a major. Indie download counts are also likely to suffer as subscribers use reduced quotas to grab Dylan, Jeff Buckley and Leonard Cohen at deeply discounted prices.

Perhaps in an attempt to calm those fears, eMusic is promising to "contextualize albums and songs from Sony Music's renowned artists, drawing meaningful connections between major and indie artists…"

For Sony, the eMusic deal is an admission that its deep catalog is not moving at $.99 or even $.69 cents a track and could signal a willingness to except further downward price pressure from other online retailers.

Then there is the potential reaction from Sony's powerful legacy artists who will now receive payments based on eMusic's reduced payouts that have in the past have ranged closer to 30 cents a track then the $.65 cents that others pay on a 99 cents download.

And will other major label groups follow? If they do, how will it affect pricing elsewhere?

Lower prices for all downloads is inevitable – even overdue. And perhaps Sony was smart to begin its experiment in the walled garden of eMusic. But is a test of 400k indie minded subscribers really a test? And is the addition of Sony an admission that eMusic's core purpose as a place for indie music discovery no longer a viable business?