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eMusic doubles prices, snares Sony

And faces a mighty backlash

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Pioneer music service eMusic has finally snagged a major label in Sony - but was it worth it?

On the back of the announcement there's a hard kick in the nuts for loyal subscribers: bundles have been cut and prices raised, leaving customers with half or a third of the download power they previously enjoyed.

eMusic offers DRM-free independent music with a fixed download allowance per month. The Sony deal brings back catalogue more than two years old from labels such as Columbia and RCA (such as Bruce Springstreen, The Clash and David Bowie) into the fold.

Sony's catalogue doesn't arrive until later this year - but the new deals represent a much poorer deal for subscribers. For example, the UK Basic plan now permits 24 downloads per month for £9.99 (42p per track), and a Premium of 30 per month for £17.99 (38p per track). That's half the value of the deals available at launch just three years ago, when £14.99 bought you 90 tracks per month - or 17p per track.

Booster packs, which allow subscribers to exceed the monthly allowance, have also changed: a 50 song extension goes up from £14.99 to £20.99. In the US, deals have changed from 40 for $10 when eMusic was relaunched in 2003, to 24 for $12.

(Yes, UK punters are ripped off by 50 per cent compared to Stateside music fans.)

The new price schedule is appallingly timed, with a global recession and services such as Datz, MusicStation and Nokia Comes With Music offering the freedom to explore large music catalogues. Spotify, which is free, is reviving interest in on-demand streaming.

eMusic has around 400,000 subscribers who provide $70m of annual revenue, according to stand-in CEO Danny Stein, who runs the investment company which acquired eMusic six years ago.

In a message board post, eMusic's Cathy Halgas Nevins responded:

"The Great Recession of 2009 is not the best time to be doing this. We own up to that. However, we - and our labels - simply cannot sustain some of the lowest cost plans that many of you currently have. The price increase is not just about Sony, it is for all of our labels, including the ones that have left over the years and those we have yet to sign." ®

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