December 10, 2009


On a crazy drunken winter's eve, I signed up for two competing music services--eMusic and Rhapsody. They were both advertising heavily on the television during the Christmas season back in 05' and I was looking for some instant music gratification that had nothing to do with Apple. I was easily impressed by their one month trial offers.

Rhapsody had all major label music streaming at the touch of a button. They offered a few downloads per month, but the streaming music would require a subscription to maintain. eMusic stuck to strictly independent labels, and anything you downloaded, you got to keep. It was DRM-free, and I could re-download any song in the future if I needed to. At the end of one month, I felt very comfortable using both sites. So comfortable that I completely forgot about the free one-month trials ending and got charged for both.

After another month I decided that eMusic was the way to go for me. They had plenty of new, weird music for me to discover. The prices were excellent and I felt comfortable downloading experimental tracks that I probably wouldn't have ever discovered or purchased on CD. I stayed with them for several years and trillions of downloads, but five months ago, eMusic and I finally broke up.

Those last few months were difficult for both of us. I felt a bit inundated by the amount of downloads I had amassed and and found increasing difficulty in using my full download credit each month. eMusic often added new music, but the math metal genre never seemed to be a priority. They added albums by Thom Yorke and Paul McCartney and bragged incessantly about it, but I had no interest in that direction. I decided to self-suspend my account for three months and see if I could live without the service.

As my return date drew near, I went to the website and Michael Jackson was on the front page. Ok, he had just died, so that made sense, but he was as far from being an indie artist as possible. Somehow his downloads were made available. I researched it on some music news sites and it turned out that eMusic had just signed a gigantic deal with the major labels and gained access to their catalogs. This was insane. On one hand it could be considered a much needed rejuvenation of their selection, but at the same time, it completely pissed upon their sacred indie ground.

I didn't know how I felt about all this until I heard they would be restructuring their download credit system and price plans. It was at this point that I decided to sign in, refresh my normal monthly plan, use my 65 downloads, and ride away clean. I logged in, confirmed my plan, entered my new credit card info, then was promptly and painfully given a corporate reality check. Immediately upon credit card approval, the page showing my 65 download plan disappeared from the existence and I was suddenly being called a "convert" with only 37 downloads. I wasn't just pissed because of the bait-and-switch, but also because I wasn't informed by eMusic at any time that prices and plans were changing, let alone when and how, and I certainly wasn't happy about being automatically "converted" just by signing in. After trying multiple times to speak to someone on their customer service hotline, I fired off my missive:
Subject: Billing Inquiries

I just went to the site today (July 6) to reactivate my account which had been on hold since April 25. The reactivation screen showed my plan of 65 downloads per month for $14.99. I needed to enter my new credit card information in order to log-in as I've updated my card in the past few months.

As soon as the system approved my credit card, I discovered that my account suddenly only showed 37 available downloads. I haven't logged-on in a few months so I know my download allotment should be fully refreshed at 65. My billing statement is also showing me as a "convert" which I definitely did not authorize.

"July 6, 2009 3:50:18 PM Convert: eMusic Plus $14.99 000PI6VZ-070609"

I called the customer service billing department 4 times and each time I was hung up on without even getting a word in edgewise. I tried the technical department and got the same treatment. As a customer for over three years, I would have appreciated a little better service than that. I want my $14.99 refunded to my credit card and then I want my subscription canceled.
24 hours later, a response:

Thank you for contacting eMusic Customer Support.

We’re sorry but the plan you are requesting has been retired and replaced by the Plus that gives you 37 downloads for $14.99 every thirty days. In addition, you received [or will receive] a free 15- download Booster Pack 30 days after your new plan starts [or started] as a special thank you for being an eMusic member.

The change in your plan is related to a major expansion to eMusic’s catalog that began on July, 2009. Nearly 200,000 tracks are being added, including many of the most loved names in music like The Clash. As part of this change, we’ve had to revise our subscription plans but are pleased to still offer you an un-matched deal on music downloads – less than half the average price per download from iTunes and Amazon.

We’re sorry that we’ve had to retire your old plan but we’re confident that you’ll find even more music to love among the many new additions to the catalog. And of course, you can always select a different plan from the Plan Options page within Your Account.

Not only were they lowering everyone's downloads per month (under the guise of "we're still cheaper than Amazon and iTunes"), but it was going to take more credits to download these "most loved names" anyway. And you would no longer be able to cherry pick tracks from albums. Fuck the fucking Clash and fuck your fuzzy math eSCREWsic.
To: "Billing"
Subject: RE: Billing Inquiries

Wait... so you're taking away 28 of my 65 downloads immediately with no warning, and then offering me 15 "free" downloads that won't take affect until I get charged (and short changed) a second time 30 days later? Why would I bother sticking around long enough to pay again for "free" downloads?

If you were really sorry, you would have at least acknowledged the issues I raised in my original email (bait-and-switch on my account status, lack of appropriate customer service over the phone, lack of communication) and offered to honor my refund.

I'm sorry, but I don't believe you're going to continue to receive my business in August.


Thank you for contacting eMusic Customer Support.

Your eMusic account associated with the email address is now canceled.

I also escalated your issue to see what I could do for you. My manager has authorized an exception to our no-refund policy on your behalf. We have issued you a refund in the amount of $14.99.

Please note that your bank can take up 5-7 business days to process your refund once we issue it. If you do not see an adjustment to your account after this time, please contact us so we can research your issue for you.

To reactivate your account, simply log in, select the plan you would like, and follow the prompts to reactivate your account. Please also note that your download history will be removed from our database if you do not rejoin within 60 days.


Something tells me that I probably wasn't the only one being escalated. I decided to take them up on their refund and never looked back. I mean, unless you count this entry as looking back. I can't tell you how eMusic is doing right now, but I personally saw a lot of public complaints in blogs and forums. Sure, it's anecdotal evidence and I don't know how many of those people actually followed through on their threats. I did, and I can't be the only one. The CEO of eMusic said this in August: "We haven’t yet seen a rise in subscription cancellations due to the new price plans. This is something we’re monitoring very closely." I'm curious if that answer is the same today. I wonder if it was worth pissing loyal customers off in order to get into bed with the majors.

As a result of all this, I've been listening to lots of garbage on the radio, but at least I'm saving money by not paying for it. I really haven't bought many CDs this year at all. I've discovered even fewer new artists than ever before. I don't know what's good in the music world these days. Maybe I'm better off.

1 comment:

Harry Badface said...

Have you tried Great for finding music that you hadn't heard before.