I’m pleased to see that the gradual redevelopment of the Emusic website is nearly complete and it’s definitely come a long way from the last version.
The newly designed home page features a well laid-out suggestion box which features the ability to remove suggestions either because a) you own it already, or b) you just aren’t interested.
This is extremely important and is something that Amazon have been doing for a long time. There’s no point you being continually being shown music that you already own, and Emusic can leverage all of this data to build up a much more effective idea of the music they should suggest to you.
This is good for Emusic and good for the end user as well. They get more potential for sales, the end user has a better chance of finding stuff he likes and being introduced to new music that they didn’t know.
I think they should go further and partner up with the likes of Last.fm. The listening profile I’ve built up on Last.fm covers over 30,000 songs and should give a very accurate impression of the sort of music I like. As a frequent buyer of music it makes a lot of sense to have the option to make this sort of data available to an online music store.
They need to push these things further. If I come across an album on Emusic I should be able to, from the album page (or the artist overview page), indicate that I own this album which should be added to their database records to help with recommendations.
It was interesting to see that rather than roll-out the new version of Emusic in one go they appear to have been redesigning each page and quietly letting it loose. I can’t remember what order things came in, but for example you would have had the artist overview page in the old style but the album page would be in the new style. It’s quite odd to see something done in this way, and whilst it’s actually worked out fine as far as I’m concerned 1, it seems like a very odd thing to do.
At the moment the Browse, Search, Label, “New on Emusic” and a few other sections are still languishing in the old design. It’s been a very gradual redesign, but they are getting there slowly but surely.
Quality not Quantity
I’ve got to mention it whilst I’m here (and this is starting to feel more and more like an open letter to Emusic), obviously when Emusic first launched, selling Mp3’s at 192kbps bit-rate must have seemed quite acceptable, and I can imagine that there’s quite a vast amount of complication going back over old stock and upgrading the quality. However, I’m sure there are plenty of audiophiles who are turned off by not having an option to purchase in higher compression or even FLAC or WAV files.
I think I’d be quite happy to pay two credits per track to download a FLAC version. It does seem that newer rips are coming in at 224kbps, which is a definite improvement, but 192kbps really isn’t good enough and sometimes you’ll even come across stuff compressed at 128Kbps, which is nothing more than a waste of money. I find I can hear the difference and it’ll be disappointing to look back in a few years time when you have all the storage space in the world and realise that you have essentially bought a cheap version of a product. You haven’t actually bought the full article.
It’s not dissimilar to buying a print instead of the original painting.
Whilst I can’t fault Emusic on being good value for money, and I love the complete lack of DRM and the ability to re-download tracks, I think they need to be wary of losing custom to people being attracted to higher quality download options on other services.
I think it would also be a lot better if Emusic actually showed what quality the tracks are encoded at so that you know before you buy. Going back to my painting comparison, it would be similar to an online gallery selling a “painting” but at the end of the day you receive a rolled-up print in the post. You wouldn’t be particularly happy with that now would you?
Finally, I’d like to mention something my housemate Donn pointed out 2. When a non-logged in user visits www.emusic.com they are presented with a sign-up page and no easily discoverable way to browse the site.
I think his point is a good one, it wouldn’t take much to present a user with simple link offering them the ability to browse the website to see what sort of catalogue was available.
Obviously there is a “free trial” giving you 50 free downloads, and you can back out before the first month is up, but users are always wary creatures, especially when it comes to entering your credit card details 3. Offering them an option to browse or search the catalogue would be very wise in my opinion.
Don’t get me wrong, it is possible to browse the store without being logged in, but it’s not discoverable. It feels like a gated community.
All in all, and despite some of my above gripes, I think Emusic is an excellent subscription service, and I’ve found a lot of new music that I like through it. It’s very handy for quickly checking out new artists that you hear about around the web, and their prices are really excellent. With their optimum plan coming in at €20.99 per month for 75 tracks it works out at €0.28 per track. At least a third of the price you’d pay per track on iTunes or Amazon.
As with most subscription services though, your downloads don’t rollover, which always feels like a bit of a rip to me (my phone company do the same thing for bill pay). This means that you have to make sure to use up all your downloads every month or you’re paying for nothing. That being said – I’m not sure I’ve ever had a problem finding stuff to download and I think only once did I forget to utilise my full download amount (lost about 12 downloads as a result – not the end of the world).