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Indies walk out on eMusic

Beggars, Domino desert download service

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Heavyweight independent labels including Beggars Group, Domino and Merge are pulling their catalogues from eMusic at short notice, in a major blow to the download service.

Between them they own the rights to many of the most popular independent acts. eMusic subscribers received an email overnight explaining that the cataloguess would be unavailable "as of Nov.18, 2010, pending further discussions".

"This is as heartbreaking to us as it is to you. Please know we have done everything we could to keep them from leaving," the email continues. eMusic's 400,000 subscribers are being offered an additional 10 free songs for the next month.

eMusic has flown the flag for independents and lauds itself as the "cheaper, cooler cousin" of iTunes. Its insistence, since its reinvention in 2003, on DRM-free downloads meant the majors shunned it, and refused to license their catalogues.

But with new financing and management eMusic is in the middle of a transition in its signed major label deals, and is increasing its prices significantly for new members. Sony and Universal Music have signed up, although UK subscribers haven't got access to those catalogues yet.

eMusic's great strengths were offering a good value bundle - if you used your credits - no DRM, and a wide range of independent music. Now DRM has disappeared from music downloads, that's no longer a differentiator, and a recent move replaced credits with a per-track cost.

The Beggars Group encompasses labels XL Recordings, Matador and 4AD, and scored the first indie number one album in the USA for 20 years this year. Domino Acts soon to disappear include Dizzee Rascal, The xx, MIA, Basement Jaxx, Animal Collective, Caribou and Sigur Rós. eMusic needs that music more than the labels need eMusic.

A pioneer before the first dot.com bubble burst, eMusic was acquired by equity firm Dimensional Associates, which also owns The Orchard distributor, and relaunched eMusic in 2003. It's going to be hard to move it in its current state - a subscription without a clear differentiator, and with huge gaps in its offering. ®

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