In all the kerfuffle about eMusic raising its prices and introducing Sony back-catalog into its lists, there has been some confusion about how the changes will affect Australian customers of eMusic. So in my discussion with Cathy Nevins from eMusic, I also asked her about that.
First up, I wanted to know if the new Sony product would be available to Australian customers. She basically referred me to their FAQ on countries outside the US, EU and Canada. This says, in part:
Service to customers has always been subject to territory restrictions, as explained in the Terms of Service agreement. Current subscribers living outside the US, EU and Canada will continue to have access to eMusic, they are effectively grandfathered into the service, and will continue to be charged US plan prices with track availability subject to licensing terms for the territory of residence, just as they are today. However we will no longer accept new customers from these areas in the near future, so current customers should bear this in mind. The Sony catalog will not be available to eMusic subscribers with US service but who are living outside the US.
I also asked, doesn’t that particularly disadvantage Australian subscribers who will suffer the new price rise but get none of the advantages of the Sony back catalog?
Her answer was, “We regret that we can’t make Sony available in Australia and that we don’t have subscription plans to offer specifically to Australians at this time.”
Okay, but if existing Australian subscribers can be “grandfathered” in, what is the rationale for accepting no new Australian subscribers? I thought at first that there might be geographic restrictions imposed by the labels, but if some users are grandfathered in, then that would not appear to be the case. So why not allow new Australian subscribers?
In answering this, Nevins revealed what, at first, sounded like a pretty promising development.
“Existing Australian subscribers may continue to use eMusic at the new US prices, but we will no longer accept new members from Australia,” she said. But she added:
“As the company grows, we are tightening our procedures and we have determined that the best way to serve Australia will be to launch a site that is specifically for Australian customers. At this time, there is no timetable for that but we have chosen to give current Australian subscribers the option to remain with us.”
A site specifically for Australians? Sounds great, and it was the first I’d heard of it. But in the subsequent exchange, Nevins was at pains not to get anyone’s hopes up.
“As mentioned, there’s no timetable to open an Australian store at the moment.”
So don’t hold your breath. In fact, I couldn’t help but feel the whole idea was thrown out there as a bit of sop, though it’s something I will be following up on over the next few months.
So the bottom line is, the new Sony product (new to eMusic) will not be available to Australian customers. eMusic will accept no new Australian customers. Australian customers who are essentially using the US service can stay on, though of course, they will be subject to the new higher prices. There is some talk of an Australian eMusic store, but at this stage it is just talk.
You have to wonder about this. I know the Australian market is realtively small, but the contempt in which it is held by various companies, including music labels, is kinda breathtaking.
When Nevins speaks of “tightening procedures” it seems in large part driven by restrictions put on eMusic by labels concerning the distribution of their product. That is, by restricting availability into various regions, they are able to practice price discrimination, so that a “small” market like Australia is charged more.
Nevins is right to say, therefore, that the best way to deal is to create an Australian-specific site, but as you can see, that is nothing more than wishful thinking at this stage.
Amanda at Flop Eared Mule notes another anomaly:
I can go to Amazon.com right now and buy any CD I want and ship it here. But I cannot buy the same album in digital form from the Amazon MP3 Store. How does this make any sort of sense?
It’s just dumb. And actually, it’s the sort of point you probably don’t want to make out loud. I can imagine the labels seeing it and deciding, rather than drop restrictions on downloading MP3s, they would add restrictions to the distribution of CDs.
Anyway, I’ll keep you updated with any further developments, and feel free to send any info you have, including stories about your own dealings with eMusic and others.