eMusic's Mobile Mistake


eMusic is announcing plans to sell songs over the air to AT&T phones today. Let’s jump ahead and throw it on the heap of failed attempts to merge music sales and mobile phones.

Why? Because yet again, consumers are being asked to spend more to purchase something on their phone than they would if they bought it anywhere else. In this case eMusic and AT&T are charging $7.49 for 5 songs: That’s a 50% markup over what it would cost to buy the songs via iTunes, and much, much more than eMusic charges on its own site, where a $10 monthly subscription gets you 30 songs.

Carriers and labels will argue that it costs more to transmit songs over the air to your phone, but that’s their problem, not yours. Since 2003, when Steve Jobs introduced the iTunes store, the maximum price for a tune has been a buck a song, and given the ease with which most songs can be procured for free, the music industry should be happy to get that.

Note, by the way, that last spring Sprint finally cut the price for its over the air downloads from $2.49 to 99 cents after watching consumers ignore their service for two years. And note that Apple’s iPhone, for now, isn’t even bothering to try to sell consumers music over the air. If you want to get music on your iPhone, you’ll need to buy it from iTunes (or acquire it some other way) and sideload it from your PC.

It’s not surprising to see a carrier muff this up yet again, but it is surprising to see it from Dimensional Associates’ eMusic, which has generally been savvy. The online retailer has quietly built itself a nice niche by focusing on independent music, and was the first to embrace the sale of unencrypted MP3s–which it did long before Apple and  EMI made a splash with it last spring. This year Dimensional flirted with selling the company to Amazon before deciding to hold off in hopes of creating an even more valuable business; that won’t happen with these kind of missteps.

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