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eMusic merges with ebook company

By | Published on Tuesday 19 March 2013


One of the longest established digital music companies, eMusic, has merged with an ebook firm called K-NFB Reading Inc to create a combined digital content platform, seemingly with ambitions to become a service provider to technology companies and other retailers.

eMusic was one of the very first digital music services to launch, and one of few digital music set-ups founded in the late 1990s to still be operating today. When Apple subsequently launched the iTunes Music Store and quickly became a market leader, eMusic distinguished itself by retaining its subscription-based business model, where users received a set number of downloads in return for a monthly membership fee, and pursuing an MP3s-only policy when most other services were still providing music in DRMed formats.

It’s alternative business model and pricing structure, coupled with the DRM-free thing, meant that in the early days none of the majors would licence eMusic. The company tried to turn that to its advantage, positioning itself as the real music fans’ download service, and putting a lot of effort into editorialising its independent label-based catalogue.

Eventually the major labels started to play ball (especially once they overcame their DRM obsessions in 2007/8), but eMusic was forced to tweak its business model to secure that content, a little at first, but ultimately turning the service into a more straight-up iTunes competitor. And that bid to appeal to more mainstream consumers with major label content arguably alienated eMusic’s core muso consumer base, many of whom were prime targets for premium streaming services like Spotify.

The future of eMusic has looked a bit rocky for a while now, and what this merger will mean isn’t very clear. K-NFB is a joint venture between technology entrepreneur and Google employee Ray Kurzweil and the US National Federation Of The Blind, and specialises in developing handheld electronic reading devices for the visually impaired. It also operates Blio, an ebook technology and store.

The combined business will be called Media Arc Inc, with eMusic and K-NFB/Blio as operating units, which possibly means that initially the two businesses will continue as normal, though there is clearly an ambition to combine the respective company’s digital music and ebook credentials into one service.

In a statement to ‘partners’, published by the Wall Street Journal, eMusic says: “Media Arc Inc will offer a comprehensive source of more than seventeen million songs, 40,000 audiobooks and 600,000 eBooks. As a new company, eMusic and K-NFB will leverage their combined technologies and expertise to create a consumer-centric interface that makes discovering, interacting with, and purchasing all kinds of media content more accessible and seamless for consumers”.

The statement continues: “The goal is to be able to sell more content for our partners by providing electronics manufacturers, retailers, MVPD/wireless companies, and others with a multimedia content solution to better compete in today’s market. Media Arc’s mission is to provide the best digital media discovery experience possible by leveraging cross-content insights to recommend new music and books to avid readers and music collectors alike”.