It’s no secret that our favorite music download service at ‘Loper HQ isn’t iTunes, but eMusic. Kirk discussed his reasons last year, and mine are pretty much the same: the wide variety of music, the great pricing, and the fact that I can do whatever I want with the music I’ve downloaded. No damn dirty DRM.
I’m not going to address the breadth and depth of the music itself, but rather the user experience. And to do that, I should very quickly explain how I use eMusic. It’s pretty simple actually: I pay $14.99 per month for 65 downloads (it’s a legacy plan), and every week, I login, go through the new music for that week, and save the things in which I’m interested in my “Saved For Later” page.
That way I don’t use up my downloads at the beginning of the month, and have to wait because something as awesome as The Hold Steady Live At Lollapalooza comes out the day after I used them up. (Of course, I could get a booster pack if that happens, but that’s not maximizing my music dollar.)
After doing it this way for the past couple of years, I’ve noticed some ways that eMusic could improve its user experience. Five ways, as it turns out, and here they are:
1. Add a “New Since Last Login” button. We all crave the new music. And, naturally eMusic provides a major section of the site called “New on eMusic.” This is broken down into three sub-sections:
- Freshly Ripped
- New This Week
- New This Month
But people don’t login to the site exactly every day, or week, or even month. They login at irregular periods. So why not add a forth sub-section: “New Since Last Login.” That way, if I login every 10 days or 3 weeks, I don’t miss anything that has come out since my last login.
2. Let me control how many albums are on a page. So, currently, when I hit that “New This Week” button, there are then various ways I can refine that search: I can break it down by genre, order it by album, artist, label, etc, and even sort it alphabetically or chronologically. The only thing I can’t do is control how many albums are displayed on a page. That is 15 per page. So if my sort returns 300 albums, I have to make 20 mouse clicks to see all of the albums.
Why is this? Actually, I’m pretty sure that the answer is to maximize page impressions, but from the user standpoint, it’s a big giant pain in the ass. Back in the dial-up days, it was pretty standard to favor a lot of pages over a long user wait time for longer pages to load. But, we’re in the broadband world now, and it’s inexcusable that I don’t even have a choice to view pages that have 50 or even 100 albums listed.
3. Downloading selected tracks. When you are looking at an individual album, you have down choices:
- You can download individual tracks, one at a time.
- You can download the entire album in its entirety.
What this doesn’t allow you to do is select multiple tracks from an album and choose to download those tracks at the same time. Where this comes in handy is when you’re wading through something like one of those live John Coltrane albums with several discs that all have the same songs over different nights.
All that they would need to do is add checkboxes next to each track, and then a “Download Selected Tracks” button next to the “Download All” button.
Sure, I can download the individual songs as I see them, but when I get to Disc Seven of Live Trane: The European Tours, I might have wished I didn’t already download a version of “Impressions” from the first disc when I come across the monster 25-minute version which is the very last track listed on the page.
What the checkboxes do is allow me to review the individual tracks prior to actually downloading, a big help when you picking and choosing through albums that have annoying 30-second skits or 5-second artsy “interludes” that count as full tracks. It also lets me pay more attention to how many downloads I have left, so that I leave any on the table when my monthly refresh comes around.
4. Make the refresh truly monthly. Did I say “monthly refresh?” Well, I’m wrong. Here is how they break down their current subscription plans:
Q: What subscription programs does eMusic offer?
A. eMusic offers three low priced subscription plans.
* 30 Song Downloads per month
* $9.99 per month
* 50 Song Downloads per month
* $14.99 per month
* 75 Song Downloads per month
* $19.99 per month
So, by “monthly,” you mean that every month on the same day, my credit card will be charged and my downloads will refresh, right?
By “monthly,” they mean “every 30 days.” Not a big deal, right? But here’s my payment/refresh history for the last 15 months:
- April 5, 2006
- May 5, 2006
- June 4, 2006
- July 4, 2006
- August 3, 2006
- September 2, 2006
- October 2, 2006
- November 1, 2006
- December 1, 2006
- December 31, 2006
- January 30, 2007
- March 1, 2007
- March 31, 2007
- April 30, 2007
- May 29, 2007
- June 28, 2007
It’s crept from the 5th of the month to the 28th of the month.
I know it’s not the biggest deal, but it’s something else in my crazy complicated life that I have to keep track of: this slowly changing refresh date. And for no good reason that I could possibly see.
What is means is two-fold: I used to think that the last weekend of the month was when I needed to make sure I’d downloaded all of my songs, but now that’s moved up. Also, if you wanna do the math, if you’re an eMusic customer for longer than six years, you’ve made an extra “monthly” payment.
Why every thirty days? Why not monthly, like you know — every single other subscription I’ve got?!? To be fair, eMusic doesn’t hide this fact — in their FAQ, right after the description of the “monthly” plans:
Q: How does the eMusic subscription work?
A: Our subscription program is simple. For each 30 day period you receive a fixed number of downloads for one low price. Every 30 days your account is refreshed with the appropriate number of downloads. Downloads do not rollover from one period to the next.
5. Rollover my downloads. I would have never even noticed the whole monthly/ 30-day disconnect if I wasn’t caught totally by surprise by the Dec 31 refresh. I’d been busy with Christmas and a vacation, and hadn’t had a chance to grab my downloads, so I was totally caught by surprise by that refresh.
But it totally wouldn’t even matter if my downloads rolled over. If you don’t want people to accumulate hundreds of downloads and use them all at once (though I’m not sure why not), then at least give some kind of grace period to the people who might have had their — you know — life interfere with getting their downloads that month.
Despite all of this, I still love eMusic. I use it every weeks — far far more than iTunes, and the other services might as well not even exist, as long as they are wed to DRM. I just want to love it that much more, and these changes would go a long way towards making that happen.