Yet more consolidation afoot in the world of digital music, and a new chapter for eMusic, one of the very first sites that let you download music in the form of MP3 files. The company has been acquired by TriPlay, a startup based out of Israel and NYC that operates various online media services, including MyMusicCloud. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed but we understand from sources that the deal is under $26 million — less than the last publicly-disclosed price paid by Vivendi when eMusic acquired it in 2001.
The companies say that the deal was a mix of cash and stock, with eMusic employees and services both coming over in the deal.
eMusic has been around since 1998, and it was once one of the more popular digital music sites around.
But a combination of forces worked against the company. The basic economics of music downloads mixed with eMusic’s all-you-can-eat business model; the domination of Apple’s iTunes in the world of downloads; and the gradual rise of streaming services like Spotify that proved to be way more popular were all challenges for eMusic.
All of this translated to a carousel of management and ownership situations for the company. eMusic, which listed on NASDAQ in 1999 in the first dot-com boom, was the first online music company to go public. It was then acquired by Vivendi in 2001 for $26 million (part of Vivendi’s digital music landgrab that also included buying MP3.com for $372 million) after its stock tanked.
It was then sold two years later to the investment group Dimensional Associates for an undisclosed amount. In 2013 it eventually merged with a digital books company, K-NFB, founded by the futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil (who is now at Google working on machine learning and language processing).
As for the fate of Media Arc, as the combined music/digital books company was called: a spokesperson confirmed that eMusic has been “extracted” from Media Art and K-NFB remains a separate company that is not part of the deal.
These days, eMusic offers a sliding scale of pricing plans for tiered numbers of downloads. It also has a free “discovery” service to lure in the punters. TriPlay’s MyMusicCloud works on two tiers: a free tier which has unlimited free storage, and the ability to sync and play up to 250 tracks on five devices, with ads. A tier that costs $40/year has unlimited free storage, unlimited syncing and playing of tracks on 10 devices and no ads.
TriPlay says that the deal will make it “one of the largest, most comprehensive digital music services in the world, comparable only to Apple iTunes and Amazon with a broad offering of features including its own music store, music player and accessibility on over 14 platforms via the web and apps.” TriPlay says that it will now have a catalog of 25 million tracks and a user base of “millions” of users (no specific number disclosed).
While eMusic will stay true to its download roots, TriPlay will now be offering its users the ability to match up those songs with tracks in the cloud to access them across multiple devices — breaking down one of the limitations of the download model.
It’s not clear whether that mix will be enough to compete with the biggest players in the world, especially considering Apple’s entry into the combined download/streaming space; and the fact that Spotify — currently the highest grossing app on the App Store — and its various rivals (including Deezer, about to go public) have managed to convince a very large swathe of music consumers that download-free streaming is the way forward.
What TriPlay seems to be banking on the idea of tapping into more eclectic tastes and the long tail of music, playing on eMusic’s own move last year away from mainstream music in favor of independent labels.
“We are thrilled to join forces with this pioneer of the digital music industry to offer all our users the wide variety of music they love in a comprehensive, next-generation platform, complete with the features they want and need,” said Tamir Koch, founder and CEO of TriPlay, said in a statement.
“There is a lot more music in the world than what you find on the radio. Our broad catalog, global access and wide selection of features, are what the millions of eMusic and MyMusicCloud users are looking for. In the coming months, our users will begin to see significant enhancements as we introduce the complete music service they want, accessible anywhere, anytime and on any device.”
TriPlay, based in New York and Israel, is backed by $16 million, including raising $11 million from the Fortress Group earlier this year, and $5 million led by Kazakh oligarch Kenges Rakishev, who also invested in Mobli and other startups.