Why EMusic (used to) get it (and Apple didn't)
UPDATE 2003-10-09: EMusic has radically changed their terms of
service. This version reflects my thoughts on the service before this
change and should not be viewed as an endorsement or recommendation
of their current offerings.
UPDATE 2003-05-01: EMusic just switched to requring the download
manager. I've updated the text to reflect this.
There has been an enormous amount of press related to Apple's new
online music service. Most of it has focused on the major labels
that have signed up or, in the case of the Wall Street Journal,
the claim that Apple
doesn't treat its users like criminals.
I actually think that EMusic
does a better job of treating its users like honest folks and
provides a better service overall. Here's why:
No DRM or crippled files
Unlike Apple's DRM equiped AAC files, EMusic provides standard MP3
files with ID3v2 tags and with no restrictions. This alone indicates
to me that EMusic understands the market far better than any other
service (except, perhaps Napster did). In the US, the
Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA) provides
immunity from prosecution for non-commercial distribution of personal copies (with some caveats) and
EMusic recognizes this. Their FAQ on
"How does EMusic protect against piracy?" is worth quoting:
Very simple -- we trust our customers. We believe that if downloadable music is presented in an inexpensive and flexible way, most consumers will do the right thing.
EMusic does not include any type of Digital Rights Management or complex security rules in our music files -- just pure, open MP3. In addition, we provide our customers with extremely flexible rights for the music they purchase and download, allowing them to easily transfer their music files to portable MP3 players and burn them on to compact discs using CD-R.
They also have a description of
MP3 User rights and responsibilities
that includes most of the AHRA granted rights. Space and time shifting are
most certainly allowed.
RIAA disagrees with this interpretation
since they claim that multipurpose CD-ROMs are not conforming devices.
However, because the labels have signed agreements with EMusic, they can
set the terms independent of RIAA's interpretation.
Cross platform (no longer: No software required)
Apple's service currently only works on Macintoshes and requires that
the iTunes program be installed. They have plans
to support Windows (as indicated in
this Register article),
but what about
Linux, BSD, OS/2, and VMS?
EMusic used to only require a web user agent with
requiring their own download manager
to be used. While it is somewhat cross platform (Linux x86, Mac OS X, and
Windows), it no longer gives EMusic an advantage in this category.
However, since the files are still standard MP3's, it will
work with any portable player and they can be burned to CDDA CDs.
Apple only supports their own iPod.
Searchable without setup / subscription
You can go to EMusic now and search for
your favorite artist, with no setup or subscription
required. You can even listen to 30 second samples before signing up
for anything. I have no idea if any of the music that I like is on
Apple's service because I have not signed up for their service, nor
do I have an OS X Macintosh. You can, however, use iTunes to search
Apple's Music Store and listen to 30 second samples without having to
Apple charges $0.99 per song. EMusic charges a flat rate per month
that is only $10/month for 1 year or $15/month for 3 months. That's
equal to one album from Apple per month for the 1 year subscription.
I know that some people prefer
per-track payments, but with my music habits that would soon lead to
a dwindling bank account...
EMusic has complete albums available and you can select which songs
you want from them. For some albums, Apple only has a few songs
and for others you must purchase the entire album. I suspect this
is due to licensing problems with the labels, but it is rather
inconvienent for the end user. For the entire album purchase, it
is typically less expensive than the real CD, but might still be
$9.99 or $12.99.
Worthwhile free trial
EMusic offers a 50 song free trial with registration. That would cost
you $49.50 from Apple. Apple only offers the 30 second samples for free.
No longer: External program integration
Obviously, Apple's service only works with iTunes. EMusic had published
the API so that many other tools could interface with it, including Apple's
There were also Linux tools that will download entire albums, cover art
and details, such as
but the changes instituted on 1 May 2003 broke compatibility with all
the third party tools. This is a bad move in my opinion.
What could they do better?
I haven't been as happy with EMusic's suggestions as I have with
With Netflix I can rate movies on a scale of 1 to 5 and
it then makes very good suggestions for other movies that I might
like. EMusic bases its suggestions on songs that you have downloaded,
regardless of your enjoyment of the track.
I would like to have lyrics to go with the cover art, but that is
something of a pipe dream.
The EMusic search engine is decent. If they don't have an artist that
you want, typically they have a list of other similar artists. I would
like to have the ability to search by lyrics as well, since half the
time I am looking for the song that sounds like...
More details, reviews, etc
Some albums and artists have blurbs about the artists. Hopefully this
will be fleshed out over time. Links to the artists' websites, fan sites,
for some degree of community, but they are very
broad by categories. An IRC like service (as provided by Napster) would
be nice, as would the ability to comment on particular artists, albums
and tracks. Half the time when I'm searching for a random song, I would
appreciate some sort of feedback from other enthusiasts.
I'm employed by neither EMusic nor Apple. I am a happy customer of
EMusic, with over 50 albums downloaded so far.
If you sign up for EMusic, use this link and get me credit on my EMusic account:
Download, Play, Burn Music.
If you don't want to get me any benefits, you can use this link:
No affiliate link.
So, those are my thoughts. Let me know your's: