October 23, 2010

Big free music hides behind little asterisk

When I bought a new flash drive, it came with an eMusic "50 FREE* songs" coupon. I visited eMusic.com to see what's behind the asterisk.

First, you have to enter a credit card or PayPal account so eMusic can automatically roll you into one of its subscription plans when your 14-day trial runs out. To get the 50 songs truly free, you must download them within 14 days and then cancel.

My trial included one audiobook, so I started there. But downloading books (or albums) requires installing eMusic's proprietary software. This rankled, though it's similar to installing iTunes to shop in the iTunes store. Except iTunes doesn't let you shop for half an hour and click a big button labeled "Download" before telling you the software needs installing.

The "Browse" feature at eMusic is pretty good. You can filter by genre, subgenre, editor's picks, user ratings and release date.

eMusic's interface is clean and easy to read.

But to listen to audio samples, you need to install an Adobe Flash Player upgrade, if you haven’t already. Which I hadn’t. I dislike Flash. One of my favorite Firefox add-ons is Flashblock. I had to add emusic.com to the Flashblock whitelist.

Then I spent the evening listening to music samples and downloading free tunes. As I got closer to having zero credits left, I started getting interesting messages. If I downloaded one song from a seven-credit album, eMusic offered me 6 free credits to complete the album -- and start my paid subscription.

The eMusic catalog is impressive. And in November, they’ll add another 250,000 tracks from Universal Music Group. I considered signing up for a subscription, but then I would be obligated to pay $12 a month for 24 tracks. (If you pay yearly, you get a discount.) I don’t want to be obligated to shop for $12 worth of music every month, since I currently average only about $7 a month for music. Those who know me well will not be surprised to know that I keep records this minutely.

So after I got my one e-book and 50 songs, I went to cancel the account. Would it surprise you to learn there’s a “just one more thing before you go” offer? An otherwise unpublicized “eMusic Mini” account -- $6 a month for 12 tracks. Even though this is below my monthly average, I gave it a miss. The cancellation process was painless. I took the exit survey so I could specify (and they anticipated this answer, because it was one of the multiple-choice options) that I prefer a la carte pricing.

Just to ensure there were no more asterisks, I logged back in and verified my account was canceled. It is, but my login remains in their system, and my account has a big button to click if I ever change my mind. Which, if eMusic switches from the subscription model, I might do.

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