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It’s sick-crazy simple. And it’s an inkling of what a lot of folks have been calling for—a licensed service that has most of the virtues (and none of the vices) of the unauthorized P2P networks.
EMUSIC GIVES IT TO YOU
FAST AND EASY
But Will the Netco’s Download Manager Want 15% of Your Files?
Writing about online music over the past few years has given me a split personality.

My consumer side wants the incredible convenience, flexibility and instant gratification of MP3s. My industry side, meanwhile, worries that my consumer side might drive me out of business.

Fortunately, I found a way to keep these warring forces in balance: sweet, sweet booze.

But Vivendi Universal-owned EMusic, which has relentlessly pursued its vision of a legal, licensed MP3 service, has come closer to pleasing both sides of my fractured, tormented psyche than almost anyone—and without impairing my motor functions.

The netco’s all-you-can-eat model, which offers many thousands of digital files (and quite a few complete albums) for a flat monthly fee (from $9.99 on up), appeals to the rapacious appetites of folks accustomed to file-sharing.

Perhaps more significantly, EMusic has steadfastly resisted all forms of copy protection. What you download is yours to burn to CD, transfer to portable devices or swap with Hilary Rosen.

Now, with the introduction of the EMusic Download Manager, subscribers can download files at lightning speed—and grab whole LPs with one click. Tracks can be queued for subsequent download, and all MP3s are saved into one folder that can reside on the user’s desktop. Info about albums, as well as cover art, appears in the interface.

It’s sick-crazy simple. And it’s an inkling of what a lot of folks have been calling for—a licensed service that has most of the virtues (and none of the vices) of the unauthorized P2P networks.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t have all the music.

Sure, the licensing process is hopelessly labyrinthine, with conflicting interests at every turn. Digerati who bitch about the labels not making music available forget that there are a lot of other folks in the value chain who’ve put up resistance.

But the fact remains that EMusic will have to hustle for subscribers, despite the already considerable value it offers, because its holdings are so idiosyncratic.

To be fair, the service offers an impressive selection of indie rock, jazz, classical music, film scores, spoken word and certain "classic" pop and rock (for example, all the Hot Tuna anyone but Jorma’s mom could ever want). And even where catalog is slight, what titles are available—a compilation of Jason Falkner demos here, an Ernest Tubb box set there—betray an informed editorial staff.

But without being able to license pretty much everything people want, it’s going to be an uphill battle to generate the number of subscribers required to spark an online-music industry.

Still, both sides of my personality hope they’ll keep trying.

You can get a free two-week trial of EMusic’s service by clicking here.

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