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.