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Digital Audio Insider is David Harrell's blog about the economics of music and other digital content. I write from the perspective of a musican who has self-released four albums with the indie rock band the Layaways.

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September 11, 2006

The Long Tail of eMusic?
by David Harrell
The Long Tail of eMusic?
We haven't announced anything yet, but my band is considering a -- let's say -- seasonal release before our third album comes out in early 2007. So I spent some last week looking at chart numbers on the eMusic site to try to get a gauge of the popularity of various sub-categories. Specifically, I was trying to determine what percentage of albums are downloaded within the three charting periods.

You can use the Browse section to find out how many albums are in the overall catalog (144,896), as well as numbers for each of the 12 main style categories. And the Charts section shows the number of albums in each category that were downloaded during the past day, month, and week. (Based on the sales figures and chart positions of the two albums we have in the eMusic catalog, I'm fairly certain that an individual download from an album counts towards its chart placement.)

After half an hour of clicking, I was able to put together the following table (shoot me an e-mail if you'd like a copy of the Excel file):

The Long Tail of eMusic -- Percentage of Albums Downloaded
Category # Albums % Day % Week % Month
Entire eMusic Catalog 144,896 9.95 29.53 52.87
Alternative/Punk 17,801 14.64 38.99 63.29
Blues 4,443 12.33 39.30 68.08
Classical 11,734 9.42 37.15 67.55
Country/Folk 9,944 12.00 32.06 53.92
Electronic 15,559 9.80 31.12 55.66
Hip-Hop/R&B 9,256 10.73 29.27 49.48
International 26,763 6.07 22.11 44.49
Jazz 13,216 12.83 42.34 69.70
New Age 3,175 8.91 35.24 62.71
Rock/Pop 29,753 8.88 25.23 43.60
Soundtracks/Other 7,514 9.44 28.55 50.96
Spiritual 4,576 7.41 25.68 46.59

Note: The sum of album numbers for each category exceeds 144,896 because some albums appear in more than one category. Data obtained from on Sunday, September 10, 2006, "All of eMusic" numbers are from Monday, September 11, 2006

Overall, more than half of the albums (or at least portions of those albums) in the eMusic catalog were downloaded during the past month. Given the obscurity of many of the artists in the catalog, that's a big percentage. However, it's quite a bit smaller than some of the numbers given in the Long Tail book -- 98% for the Ecast jukebox, 95% for the NetFlix catalog, etc. Those 90+ percentages, however, were generally for a quarter, not a single month. Over a three-month period, I'm assuming the percent-of-catalog numbers for eMusic would be somewhat higher.

I don't have the data to assess the slope of the curve for eMusic downloads, but I've often wondered if it's somewhat hit-oriented. That is, high-charting albums might tend to stay that way because they're more prominent in the system. A subscriber looking for something to download is more likely to see the top-ranked albums when looking through the charts or browse pages, resulting a self-perpetuating chart position.

Also, I wouldn't read too much into the relative percentage downloads for a particular category. They're not necessarily a good indication of its actual popularity with eMusic subscribers. For example, in the Blues category, tracks from 3,025 albums were downloaded over the past month, resulting in one of the higher percent-of-category numbers (68%). The International category has a much lower percent-of-category number, just 44.49%, but tracks from 11,908 albums were downloaded over the past month, nearly 4X the number of downloaded Blues albums.

As for the seasonal project we're considering, the eMusic numbers look good, even considering the above caveat. There are 998 "Holiday" albums in the catalog. Nearly 60% of them have had downloads in the past month. Not bad, given that it's only September.

related: The Long Tail, the Fat Middle, and Tiny Slices


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    Out Now -- "Maybe Next Year" -- The New Holiday Album:

    <a href="">Joy To The World by The Layaways</a>

    "This is a sweet treat, deliciously musical without being overbaked for mass media consumption." -- Hyperbolium

    "Perfect listening to accompany whatever holiday preparations you may be making today." -- Bag of Songs

    O Christmas Tree - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    Away In A Manger - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or Bandcamp. Listen to free streams at

    album cover art from The Space Between

    <a href="">Keep It To Yourself by The Layaways</a>

    "...about as melodic and hooky as indie pop can get." -- Absolute Powerpop

    "Their laid-back, '60s era sounds are absolutely delightening." -- 3hive

    "...melodic, garage-influenced shoegaze." -- RCRD LBL

    Where The Conversation Ends - free mp3
    January - free mp3
    Keep It To Yourself - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or CD Baby, stream it at or Napster.

    album cover art from We've Been Lost

    <a href="">Silence by The Layaways</a>

    "The Layaways make fine indie pop. Hushed vocals interweave with understated buzzing guitars. The whole LP is a revelation from the start." -- Lost Music

    "Catchy Guided by Voices-like rockers who lay it on sweetly and sincerely, just like Lionel Richie." -- WRUV Radio

    Silence - free mp3 lyrics and song details
    The Long Night - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at, Napster, or Rhapsody.

    album cover art from More Than Happy

    "These are songs that you want to take home with you, curl up with, hold them close -- and pray that they are still with you when you wake up." -- The Big Takeover

    Let Me In - free mp3
    Ocean Blue - free mp3

    Download from eMusic, Amazon MP3, or iTunes, stream it at, Napster, or Rhapsody.

    More Layaways downloads:

    download the Layaways at eMusic download the Layaways at iTunes

    the layaways website