I recently rejoined eMusic.com after a lengthy separation - mainly because it offered 75 free downloads on top of the 30 downloads for $12 basic plan. This works out to about 11 cents per download, which handily beats iTunes' 99 cents.
I have several issues with this particular music download provider, however, which is why I almost always cancel my subscription after the first month. But first, let's look at the positives.
1) Its selection is rapidly growing - I never have downloads left over. Upon renewing, I quickly plowed through nearly half of my 105 downloads by finding albums I wanted from M. Ward, the Gaslight Anthem and John Fahey. There is lots of indie rock, classical, jazz and numerous other genres to choose from. iTunes is in a league all its own, but eMusic leads the pack of second-tier legal online music providers.
2) eMusic is often generous with free downloads during a trial subscription or to lure you back after canceling (hence my 75 free downloads). See below for information on how to get 100 free downloads - no strings attached.
3) eMusic downloads are instantly added to your iTunes library and can easily be added to your iPod. Its downloader software is easy to set up and use.
Now the bad. With Emusic you pay for a certain number of downloads per month. With iTunes you pay for each song individually (usually $0.99) or a flat price (usually $9.99) for the full album. So if an album has 15 tracks, it will eat up 15 downloads from your eMusic quota. Sometimes an album has tracks a minute long (or less) depending on the artist's vision. Those, too, cost you a download.
I think it's a flawed system. Perhaps this is the system eMusic agreed upon with the record companies. I think a better system would involve purchasing music in blocks of hours or minutes. For example, 180 minutes of music for $12. Then, "Ouo" by Andrew Bird (0:20) wouldn't cost you the same as "Cobra" by My Morning Jacket (24:12). I'm sure an artist could still be justly paid by simply keeping track of how people download his or her work.
So give eMusic a try with all this in mind. If you sign up for a free trial, be sure to use its promotion through GE, which will get you 100 free downloads (it's the most generous promotion I've found on the site). You won't be charged as long as you cancel before your subscription renews. And you can keep the 100 downloads.
Of course, I encourage everyone to pay for their music and obtain it legally. Go to Record Theatre, buy albums on iTunes; if you get an album for free and like it, buy it. But an offer for 105 downloads for 12 bucks can't be beat.