A personal post this time. Like all posts, it is a personal view, not that of my employer.
As my business sorts through the challenges of getting consumers to pay for content, I want to make note about two online services with differing approaches to the issue of subscriptions and memberships. Bear with me because there's a message inside this for the news industry.
One service I've used for years and increasingly don't like now because of how it treats me when I stay. One I've barely used for two weeks but like because it permitted me easily to come and go.
First, eMusic.com. I want to start by saying I like the principle behind it: fair payments for authorized recordings (about 40 cents a track in the plan I purchase monthly, but more or less depending on which plan is chosen).
I don't particularly think its repertoire is either deep or timely, even for the alternative music it touts, the classical music it houses or the jazz it dabbles in. There are gaping holes in artists' catalogues.
But I would live with that if only eMusic permitted me to use all of the credits I pay for. Instead, at the end of a month (in my case, today), my unused credits disappear. Which is ridiculous. It's like saying the last three chapters of the book I bought but haven't read will be pulled out or the movies I rented but didn't see tonight will be taken from me now. I honestly don't understand how eMusic can do justify a use-it-or-lose-it; they've been paid in advance for a certain number of tracks, and just because I chose not to download to fill my credits in the month (in this case, I just didn't spot anything I wanted), they shouldn't take them away.
I've written eMusic and received no answer, and I know I'm not alone. Friends who subscribe have the same complaint: they take your credits away each month.
Two other things make this credit system problematic:
1. The batch of credits you buy each month don't necessarily reflect an album's track count (buy 30 credits in advance and you're almost never going to find albums totalling 30 tracks), so you're forced to either download only part of an album when you run down on credits or top up your purchase with additional credits at a way-out-there premium to get a full recording.
2. Every track weighs the same, so a 20-second intro is the same expenditure as a 20-minute track. I note that iTunes and others charge per track, but when you've got a finite package, those small tracks can cost a lot.
So, eMusic had better wake up. No matter that it houses music I like and permits me to download legally to make sure the artists I like get some money off the Internet, it has turned a blind eye and deaf ear to a basic flaw in its offering. If there are a lot of people like me out there, it won't be long before someone beats eMusic at its game.
Which is my point for the news business. If we aren't listening to customers, we will lose them.
Now for the good news. A couple of weeks ago I wanted to research some family history and found the online services were going to be costly and largely vague about what they could offer. I came upon Ancestry.ca, signed up for a free 14-day trial, and set about using the service (within limits, because the trial doesn't provide full access). What I liked about the service was that it made clear what I'd get if I paid ---- it didn't hint, it stated --- and also kept the door open for me to depart any time in the first 14 days without being billed.
So, tonight as I sat down to work online, I was able to cancel my Ancestry.ca account (I might be back) and then turn to eMusic and see that 15 of my 30 credits for the last month had been wiped out. I can say safely now that this will be my last month on eMusic if the system isn't changed. I've spent hundreds of dollars with them, but I'm tired of having to download two or three tracks of an album to use my credits each month and wait for a fresh instalment to download the balance of an album.
It would help if eMusic would answer complaints, too. That's another message for my business: listen to complaints, even if you can't do everything about them, and acknowledge you're hearing the message.
As our business contends with the concepts of micropayments and memberships to support content, there are interesting lessons inside the eMusic and Ancestry.com stories.