eMusic to departing subscribers: We won’t forget you (not)

Harald Walker wrote me to note that eMusic seems to have changed its past policies regarding how it treats departing subscribers:

Maybe something new from eMusic. As far as I know it has been possible in the past to stop the paid subscription for a while and activate it many months later without loosing your account data, which is important if you have to download tracks again (if eMusic still has them) and if you want to keep your lists. …

At least that’s how it was in 12/2003 when I stopped for while.

As it happens, I did the exact same thing: I initially subscribed to eMusic in June 2002, cancelled my subscription in December 2004 (because I was having trouble finding enough new music worth downloading) and then resubscribed in June 2005 (just over six months later) with all my account information restored to the state it was at prior to my cancellation.

Now eMusic gives departing subscribers a 60-day grace period after they cancel service, after which it deletes all their account information; from the current message eMusic is sending upon cancellation:

Your eMusic … subscription has been cancelled and will expire at the end of your current billing cycle. Your profile data and download history will be deleted from our records in 60 days unless you reactivate your account within that timeframe.

Because eMusic provides DRM-free MP3 tracks, departing subscribers still retain all the music they downloaded prior to cancelling; at worst they’ll now lose the ability to redownload tracks from eMusic should they ever resubscribe past the 60-day window. That ability was and is a convenient way to replace any tracks a subscriber might have lost to due to a hard drive failure or accidental deletion.

(However note that such redownloading is not a true substitute for backing up your eMusic MP3 collection, because you can’t redownload tracks that have been pulled from eMusic by their labels. Again, this happened to me: I deliberately deleted some Butchies albums from my collection, regretted it later, and then found that the albums in question were no longer available on eMusic.)

eMusic’s retaining subscriber profile information indefinitely also meant that returning subscribers would find all their save for later choices intact, as well as any album and track lists that they might have published for others to view. Subscribers posting on the eMusic message boards could also come back and participate in discussions under the same nickname, as if nothing had happened in the interim.

Although this policy change is a net loss from the point of view of eMusic subscribers, I have to say that I’m sympathetic to eMusic’s position in this matter. The problem from eMusic’s point of view is that some subscribers were apparently deliberately dipping in and out of the service: They would subscribe for a few months, downloading their full quotas each month, cancel their service, resubscribe a few months later when they felt like downloading more tracks, and then repeat the whole process. If enough people did this then it would mess up eMusic’s business model, which depends on the average subscriber not downloading their full quota each month.

Thus eMusic has made what I think is a reasonable compromise: If you cancel and regret it soon thereafter, you can come back within 60 days and be treated like the prodigal son. After that time it’s hey, I don’t think I know you and you have to start afresh just as if you were an eMusic n00b.

11 thoughts on “eMusic to departing subscribers: We won’t forget you (not)

  1. duggie

    I got this message upon closing my secondary account. I reactivated it several months later and everything was still there.

  2. Frank Hecker

    Interesting. This may then be a good example of eMusic informally continuing the past policy, but laying the legal ground work for it to be more restrictive in how it treats departing subscribers in the future, should it decide to do so. As Harald Walker noted (but I neglected to mention), in the past the message from eMusic was “If you would like to reactivate your eMusic account at any time, …”, which constituted an implied commitment to retain a subscriber’s data forever.

  3. derek

    Why would eMusic’s business model depend on “the average subscriber not downloading their full quota each month”??? What difference does it make how many tracks are downloaded, as long as the customer remains a continuous subscriber? Is it a bandwidth issue?

    Anyhoo, the fact that my old account data won’t stay around if I cancel won’t stop me from cancelling. I’m not going to keep paying month-to-month if I can’t find anything I want to download.

  4. Frank Hecker

    If people don’t download their full quote per month then this raises the revenue that eMusic is getting per-track. For example, if a person on the Basic plan ($9.99 per month) downloads only 20 tracks instead of 40 then in effect they are paying eMusic $0.50 per track, not $0.25. This means more profit for both eMusic and the labels. (As I understand it, eMusic has revenue sharing arrangements with labels where they get a percentage of the per-track revenue.) It also provides more money to cover per-track fixed costs, most notably the so-called mechanical royalties paid to music publishers (distinct from the labels). If everyone downloaded all the tracks they possibly could given their subscription, per-track revenue would drop, there would be less profit for eMusic and the labels, less money to cover mechanical royalties, and in general it would be a much less attractive business proposition for eMusic.

  5. david

    A friend (and fellow eMusic subscriber) pointed out that because of the “backup” potential, the longer you’ve maintained a subscription, the more valuable it becomes.

    That is, if you’ve been using all of your allotment each month, after two years you’ll have an eMusic library of nearly 1,000 songs. (Under the 40-a-month plan.) While a back-up system for those songs isn’t — by itself — worth $9.99 a month, I think it figures into the decision-making process.

    Offering the ability to re-download the music probably costs eMusic relatively little. (I don’t think they have to pay labels for later downloads so it’s pretty much just the bandwidth expenses.) Yet it probably keeps some subscribers from ever canceling. Seems like a smart business decision.

  6. Paul

    There used to be a third party utility (I think it was called myCollection and I think it was written in Perl) that would download a list of your entire collection from emusic and put it in a csv file. I think it also had a function where it would check the files on your machine vs. the csv file to see if your collection was complete. I am no longer a member of emusic, but I think I’m missing some mp3’s from my collection. I’d like to check my collection vs. all my downloadable files and re-instate my account before I don’t have access to my old downloads anymore. Does anyone know where I can get this utility and if it is still functional?

  7. Harald Walker

    Looks like eMusic is loosing some European customers. I got this offer from them: “Reactivate your eMusic subscription today and for a limited time your first month is free! (…) This limited time offer expires on October 13, 2006. By clicking the link above you will be reactivated into an eMusic Europe account. You will be entitled to one free month of eMusic at the plan level into which you reactivated. Note that the price of your subscription plan may have increased since the time you cancelled your account.”

  8. hecker

    To Robert Kennedy: I deleted your comment because a) this is not the eMusic customer service department and b) it’s not a good idea to put credit card info (even partial) on a public site like this. Go to emusic.com and follow the link for customer service.

  9. Frank Hecker

    Joyce: I’m not associated with eMusic; if you’re having trouble with your eMusic subscription you’ll need to context the eMusic customer service department directly.

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