Two of the most advertised music download services in the United States are Apple’s iTunes service and eMusic, which bills itself as the “world’s largest independent music retailer.” But which is the best place to spend your entertainment dollars? This article will compare several different aspects of the service, along with a verdict determining which service is better in each category.
iTunes: iTunes is the undisputed leader among music download services. Offering thousands of albums, television shows, and podcasts through their Itunes store, Apple has forged business agreements with all of the major labels and the majority of the independent labels in the United States. The millions of dollars spent on marketing both the iTunes service and the iPod music player have made Itunes virtually synonymous with “music store” among most young shoppers. While some individual bands have refused to do business with Itunes, it’s a fairly safe bet that if you want it, Itunes probably has it.
Emusic: Unlike Itunes, eMusic has not been able to forge deals with the biggest record labels, primarily because of their refusal to include Digital Rights Management (DRM) software in their songs. Instead, eMusic has tried to corner a different market than Itunes, that of the 25 year old+ demographic. Their choice to offer their downloads without DRM technology has alienated the “Big Three” labels, forcing eMusic to compete for the independent music lover’s dollar. Their website claims that they have relationships with 40,000 independent record labels offering over four million tracks for download. While this appears to be an impressive number, downloaders expecting to find the latest album by U2, Fergie, or Bruce Springsteen will find nothing, while someone searching for bands from their childhood like America and Skid Row will only find live albums, re-recordings, or albums released well after the bands’ primes. Where eMusic does shine is in its Jazz, Classical, and Blues music sections where bands record dozens of albums for multiple labels. It also does well with niche markets such as Punk and Americana.
Advantage: iTunes is the clear winner here, offering nearly anything a person could wish to download.
iTunes: When Itunes launched, they instituted a controversial pricing model that charged $.99 for songs and $9.99 for albums. This pricing model was the same for Pink as it was for Miles Davis. It helped make Itunes as popular as it was, but it also caused friction with the major labels. Recently, Apple has announced that they will be gradually removing the DRM from all songs, with a resulting compromise with the labels that charge as little as $.79 for less popular songs and as much as $1.29 for more popular songs. Currently, the majority of songs and albums maintain the original pricing model.
eMusic: Unlike Itunes, eMusic is not an ala-carte music service. Instead, they offer a subscription model. Their cheapest and most popular plan offers 30 songs for $11.99 a month, or roughly $.40 per song. Their plans get cheaper as they go up, with their 75 song per month plan going for $19.99, or roughly $.26 per song. The catch is that this monthly payment is charged whether you download your songs or not. The songs are credited at the beginning of the month and you have 30 days to download them or they are lost. Additionally, Emusic is strictly a per-song fee, they do not offer discounts for album downloads.
Advantage: Tie. eMusic is the cheaper service by far if they have what you’re looking for and the track list is of normal size. For example, My Morning Jacket’s Evil Urges cd will cost you $9.99 on Itunes, but only $5.60 at the 30 song per month level. That said, Itunes is the cheaper option for albums with a lot of songs on them. For example, Buckethead’s album Funnel Weaver has 49 tracks, costing a whopping $19.60 on Emusic, but just $9.99 on Itunes.
Portability and Ease of Use:
iTunes: Itunes has a number of problems with portability and ease of use. The first is that their songs are in an MP4 format which makes them incompatible with a number of retail MP3 players. While the universal appeal of Itunes has caused most portable music player manufacturers to include MP4 support for their machines, some cheaper models still do not, making Itunes files unusable. Additionally, the DRM on Itunes songs limits things such as the number of times you can burn it, leaving many users who like to make mix cds for their car out in the cold. Once Itunes is completely free of DRM, this will no longer be a problem but for now, it remains so. Additionally, you have to download the ever present and resource hogging Itunes music manager, which is the most annoying and memory gobbling program since the Realplayer.
eMusic: Portability and Ease of Use is where Emusic shines. Their songs are high quality MP3 downloads, free of DRM of any kind and usable on virtually any digital music player on the planet. Songs downloaded from Emusic are truly yours. You can burn as many mix cds as you want with them, transfer them to other computers with ease, and use them in any way you like. Also, Emusic’s Download Manager is unobtrusive and strictly for downloads. Managing your music can be done using Windows Explorer, Nero, Media Player, or even Itunes if you’re so inclined.
Advantage: eMusic and it’s not even close.
Over all, it’s hard to say one service stands out as better than the other. Itunes is clearly the choice if you’re looking for chart toppers or that one song you danced to at your prom. Emusic is the clear choice if your tastes are more eclectic or you are enough of a music junkie that you could find 30 or more independent songs you’d want. Personally, I have used Emusic for over two years now and have never had a complaint so that is my personal preference. The monthly song allotment has caused me to experiment with music I’d have never tried if I were downloading it ala carte.