I'm guessing that I'm not the only music writer in the world to be unsurprised that some indie labels are planning on removing their catalogs from online retailer eMusic. For those who are unaware of eMusic's service, the company offers a subscription download service of DRM-free MP3 files. Given the rates that eMusic offers (its cheapest package gives you 30 tracks a month for a mere $9.99 -- that's 0.33 per track, for the non-accountants in the room), it's no wonder that there is a bit of discomfort in the air.
Now that there are services such as iTunes, who are beginning to offer the same caliber of DRM-free MP3 files for a much more substantial $1.29 per track, why would an indie label have any interest in offering their precious catalogs to a service that divvies out much smaller royalties? According to a recent Billboard report, some labels receive as low as 12 cents per track from eMusic, while that same song would receive over 60 cents from an iTunes purchase (that's a 400% difference, according to unofficial TMT accountant "Joe").
But while the obvious conclusion to draw about this recent news would be strictly related to the financial aspects, there is more to the picture than you may realize. Some label representatives are concerned that eMusic is attempting to lure in indie labels to expand their subscriber base in order to make their company more appealing as a business acquisition (though eMusic CEO David Pakman claimed that this was not the case last month).
Pakman also claimed at the same press conference that the average eMusic customer only uses 20 of their allotted 30 tracks per month -- that's 66% of $9.99, which means that these dumb average white men are actually driving up the cost-per-song to 49 cents themselves.
Victory Records made a bit of press when they pulled their catalog from eMusic's site in early April. According to the same Billboard report, there are at least six different labels who are considering withdrawal from the site, be it leaving only their back-catalogs available or removing their label's entire catalog altogether. Unfortunately, as is the case with many of these ridiculous reports, the names of these labels is a mystery to the general public.
So for now, I'm sure there will continue to be a couple thousand people a day buying Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven double album on eMusic for $1.32. After all, we're not music fans, we're fucking garage sale bargain junkies! Let the proverbial legal download garage sale continue, folks. Now onto that $0.33 Bang On A Can album...
Royalties? What royalties?