Price: Available in a dizzying range of plans that offer a fixed number of downloads for monthly fees ranging from $6 (10 downloads) to $25 (100 downloads)
Who it’s best for: Music fans who love offbeat artists and are willing to pore through eMusic’s vast archive of indie labels to unearth its many treasures
Verdict: If you’re looking for the latest from Coldplay or Lil Wayne, forget about this service. But if your tastes run to independent artists and you’re disciplined enough to use all your monthly downloads, eMusic’s costs per album are shockingly low.
Price:An odd pricing structure that starts at free for tracks by unknown artists and then rises to iTunes levels (a maximum of 98 cents per track) based on demand
Who it’s best for: Bargain hunters with a strong independent streak and the patience to sift through page after page of obscure recordings to find the good stuff
Verdict: Amie Street is a lot like eMusic. Its selection, limited to independent labels, includes plenty of good stuff if you’re willing to look hard enough. With no monthly fee, you can browse and buy only what you want.
The two services on this page are hard to categorize. Where iTunes and Zune and Rhapsody pride themselves on stocking most new and catalog releases from the giant RIAA-affiliated labels, eMusic and Amie Street take the opposite approach. The selections at both services include almost nothing from the Billboard charts and are instead stocked with new and old releases from independent labels.
Back in my college days, I haunted local indie record shops and amassed a huge collection of vinyl LPs. I get that same feeling from eMusic, where I’ve been a satisfied customer since 2002. eMusic continues to honor the plan I signed up for way back then, which lets me download 90 tracks per month for an annual fee that works out to $16 per month. I never have trouble using up my monthly downloads, but it’s also a bit of a treasure hunt each month, poring through the new releases and my list of albums I’ve saved for later.
Of the seven albums on my shopping list, eMusic had only three available. Figuring out how much each one cost was a bit of a challenge, because of the many pricing plans. For the chart that accompanies this post, I calculated the cost using the eMusic Basic plan (30 tracks a month for $12, or 40 cents each) and the eMusic Premium plan (75 tracks per month for $20, or 27 cents per track). On average, the eMusic albums cost between 37% and 57% less than the same titles on iTunes. That makes all the poking around and exploring worth it.
The eMusic interface is slick and doesn’t allow full-track previews, only 30-second samples. But it does keep a record of every album you’ve ever downloaded, and if you ever lose a track you can download it again for free. I’ve used that feature for another benefit as well. Over the years, eMusic has upgraded the quality of its tracks, just as iTunes has with its iTunes Plus service. The difference? iTMS charges $3 per album for the upgrade, and eMusic charges nothing.
Amie Street has much in common with eMusic, including a catalog that overlaps substantially. The big difference is the way Amie Street charges for the music it stocks. Every track starts out free and then rises, based on demand, to a maximum of 98 cents per track. In practice, that artist-friendly policy didn’t pay dividends for my shopping list. At Amie Street I found only two of the albums on my shopping list. One was a compilation that cost a penny less than the same title at iTMS (and $3 to $6 more than Amazon MP3 and Zune). The other was a live album that was a deal compared to iTMS but cost more than the same title on Lala.
At the end of my evaluation, I couldn’t really figure out what Amie Street wanted to be. The clean web-based interface doesn’t make it easy to find the good stuff, and the pricing is downright baffling. I’ll stick with eMusic, thanks.
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