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So Long, MP3.com


Yesterday, December 2nd, 2003, was a milestone for online music- the hosting service MP3.com closed its doors. I read the comments on the only surviving discussion board as the final minutes ticked off. Many of them were heartfelt farewells, a few of them pretty sad- "I was in the top ten", and "x is a fukkin cocksucker". At the end there were efforts by a few people to get the last post ever. They were surprised when the plug didn't get pulled at noon, but if you logged out after twelve there was no way back in. I wonder if they are still there, unable to let go?

The site launched in 1997. When I joined in April of '99 things were in full swing. I was pretty naive, but at the time it looked as though having the ability to put your music online was going to cause a revolution- no longer could record companies and radio exclusively decide who would reach a wide audience. Of course, there was one problem...

Nobody was doing any filtering. If you ever "shopped" for new music at MP3.com, you soon discovered that the quality was a little uneven. Everything was mixed up together, from professional work done in studios to the first-time guitar plucker with a Gateway mic and a sound card.

I always root for the kid with the sound card (and I downloaded a few worth keeping), but the problem was that there was no way to sort these things out. MP3.com had charts, which soon became jokes as people formed teams to download each other's songs repeatedly and employees of the company played favorites with feature spots. This led to some lively discussions back in the day when the artist boards had hundreds of participants. heh.

Still, there was good music to be found there. I discovered Brazzaville and Full Blown Kirk, John Heyden, Lari Lucien and many others. It was possible, once, to go about half-way down the charts and play lo-fi streams. I'd find something worthwhile about once in every ten listens, but I don't think very many people bothered.

It didn't take long for it became clear that the revolution that MP3.com's founder had in mind was to take the money and clear out. The I.P.O. came in 1999, when, according to writer Alex Berenson "...investors have rewarded MP3.com with a valuation of more than $3.5 billion. Even for an Internet stock, that valuation is generous, at roughly 50 times MP3's projected 2000 revenue." Berenson goes on to quote an industry analyst at the time: ""I do not see anything that MP3.com has or has built up that protects it from more recognizable music from people we know and trust," says Mark Hardie... "With its huge variety of bands, MP3.com is a "flea market" of music. But a flea market is not where most people shop on an regular basis. ... In discussions around the music industry, I think there is very little support for MP3's model as the future of the music business.""

Rather than address this flea market problem in some positive way, MP3.com pursued ways to increase their ad revenue- only natural, seeing as they were supposedly worth billions. They changed the layout of the site which increased page views but virtually eliminated efficient browsing. Finally, they began charging users for "premium" services like bold-face type in chart listings, which may have helped weed out non-serious players, but it was too little, too late.

Build on the hopes and dreams of thousands of ordinary people- a typical American sucess story. R.I.P. MP3-dot-com. The revolution will somehow continue without you.

Jeff Coleman



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