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EMusic buyer to kill off unlimited download offer

Puts limits on subscriptions

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Online alternative music service EMusic will next month scrap its unlimited download service and replace it with a rather more limited offering, the company told its 70,000-odd subscribers this week.

The change follows the company's acquisition by Dimensional Associates (DA), privately held venture capital firm focused on the digital music arena.

On 8 November, the $9.99-a-month unlimited download service will be limited to a maximum of 40 downloads each month. Subscribers can increase that figure to 65 downloads a month, but that will cost them $14.99. A monthly payment of $50 will buy them 300 downloads each month.

The company blamed the move on the "intense financial, legal and technological pressure" the music industry currently finds itself under. "As a provider of music downloads, EMusic is subject to a complex system of intellectual property rights and technological challenges that impose high costs and often uncertain risks on the company," it told subscribers.

DA clearly wants to beef up EMusic's income, but its possible that having seen the success of pay-per-download services like Apple's iTunes Music Store, EMusic's label partners have decided they want a better deal from the online service. That said, 40 songs for $9.99 works out at 25 cents a download - much less than the Apple-set standard of 99 cents a track.

EMusic also restated its commitment to the MP3 format, dropped by other online music services in order to incorporate DRM technology into the songs they offer.

"EMusic will remain the only service providing customers the flexibility and portability that comes with the open MP3 format," the company said. And the company is not forcing a minimum subscription period on its customers.

It also re-iterated its support for song portability: "You will still have unparalleled access to the best MP3s available from independent music labels around the world. You will continue to have the ability to download this music, take it with you and play it wherever and however you like," its e-mail tells subscribers.

It also promised that "over the next several months EMusic will be adding significant new labels, artists and releases as well as enhanced features". EMusic's service includes over 250,000 songs in every genre from 900 of independent music labels from around the world, including Beggars Banquet, Matador Records and Vagrant.

EMusic was formerly owned by Vivendi's US Internet and technology subsidiary, Universal Net USA. Presumably its sale comes as the French media company continues to sell off parts of the organisation in order to reduce its significant debt burden. Universal acquired EMusic in June 2001.

EMusic is also notorious as one of the music companies that sued Napster - an action taken a month before the company announced it was to be bought by Universal.

Universal also acquired MP3.com that year. MP3.com was this week revealed to have let its domain name lapse and touts EMusic as its "premier music service". ®

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