Late Tuesday night, digital retailer eMusic sent an e-mail to its subscribers, alerting them to the fact that content from indie heavyweights Domino, Beggars and Merge will be gone from the site effective Nov. 18.

While providing the basic factual information about how long subscribers would have to purchase tracks from the catalog, the e-mail also included a link to "add [their] voice to help us bring them back." The message also included the statement, "This is as heartbreaking to us as it is to you. Please know we have done everything we could to keep them from leaving." Two labels, Beggars and Merge, released more measured statements on their own sites, calling out eMusic's recent major label deals as the reason for their departure. A source at a departing label cited Universal in particular, saying that they were tired of dealing with Universal's sometimes-aggressive negotiating strategies.

eMusic President/CEO Adam Klein Responds
While some have speculated that this was merely a negotiating strategy to get better rates, eMusic president/CEO Adam Klein says that all labels, regardless of whether they were indie or major, were offered the same terms. Klein also says he rejects the notion that indies were being shoved aside in favor of new content, saying that it was always eMusic's goal to provide consumers with a full array of music. On Thursday, that array will include not only Universal, but also Sony's frontline album releases.

Departure Should Be of Minimal Consequence to Indies
For the departing indies, leaving eMusic should be of minimal consequence, especially for their newer releases. While their deep catalog sales might decline, people who want, for example, the Vampire Weekend album, can easily and cheaply find it in many other places. The fact that Amazon is willing to sell indie albums as a loss-leader is a huge boon for many of these indies. And other competitors could easily use this as an opportunity to target price-conscious indie customers and gobble up market share.

Challenges Ahead For eMusic
Emusic, however, faces bigger challenges, especially if more prominent indies start leaving. While it now has content from majors including Warner, Sony and the soon-to-be-released Universal tracks, the site has spent years establishing itself as a place for independent music and music discovery. One of the indies that is leaving pointed out that there has been discord on the site's massage boards around the introduction of major label content and changes in pricing structure, and that, on some level, affected their decision to pull out. But Klein says that indies labels on eMusic would not have suffered in the wake of the price changes, and in fact some might even have benefited.

eMusic Still Houses Thousands of Indies
There are other factors at play. For one, people are often reluctant to leave a trusted digital outlet, and many are locked in to eMusic as subscribers. And indies have left and returned before, though in previous departures, it was a reaction to pricing changes and payouts, not major labels. Although the indies that are leaving are taking strong catalogs, the site does still remain home to thousands of other independent outlets.