Plan B for Net Investors: Legal Music?
One beneficiary of the abandonment of the "free music" movement has been Emusic.com, a downloadable music site boasting strategic agreements with 600 record companies—all agreements legal and copyright-compliant. Those 600 companies represent about 65% of all record labels, according to Dow Jones Newswires.
The past few months have been a roller-coaster ride for the subscription music service. Over the winter, as MP3.com grew in popularity, fickle investors had been unloading their shares of Emusic. The stock saw a steady downward slide, from more than $18/share in December to less than $2/share in April, but a series of legal setbacks for the free-music sites has caused investors to begin flocking back to Emusic. In the first week of May, Emusic's stock was bid up almost 100%, closing at $4.12 on Thursday, May 4. "A lot of investors see us emerging as the leader," said EMusic.com's president and CEO, Gene Hoffman, Jr. "We built a legal business that scales very nicely," he added.
Key word: legal. Unlike free-music sites, whose operators dance around copyright issues, Emusic.com has pursued from its inception honest business dealings with the music industry. The copyright and Internet distribution agreements that the site negotiated with record labels cost Emusic.com millions of dollars. The strategy was dismissed as hopelessly naïve a few months ago, but now appears to offer the most promise for the future. "The perception up until the past two weeks could have been that the rights were worthless," said Pacific Growth Equities analyst Brian Alger of Emusic's deals with the labels. "But with the MP3.com ruling and recent actions by Metallica and Dr. Dre against Napster, copyrights are being upheld."
On Tuesday, May 2, Emusic.com announced that its Rollingstone.com subsidiary will provide content (music-industry information, artist profiles, and album reviews) to Microsoft Corp.'s WindowsMedia.com. The following day, Launch Media Inc. debuted a digital-music download home page with links to EMusic.com and Liquid Audio Inc.'s websites, exposing the music services to 3.5 million additional viewers. Both developments have helped renew investor interest.