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Is MP3.com on its Last Leg?
Article by David Nevue
The Music Biz Academy - Dec. 20th, 2002


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I have been really surprised at the lack of press on the most recent changes over at MP3.com. Of course, it may be that many in the industry consider MP3.com irrelevant today, but I myself, as an independent artist, take some exception to this. Perform a search at Google for 'music' and MP3.com is the #2 site listed. Search for 'mp3' and it's the #1 site listed. In terms of pure, cyber-traffic I'm not sure how much more relevant a web site can be. Maybe MP3.com doesn't have the traffic of Amazon.com, but for a web site that willingly plays host to thousands of independent artists, there isn't much out there that's more visible.

You may recall that a few weeks ago I wrote a commentary on 'MP3.com's Halloween Treat,' that is, the new 'look and feel' of the web site. In addition to these changes, MP3.com dropped hints that there were some big changes in store for its 'Premium Artist' Program. Last week, MP3.com announced those
changes.

The most notable change, which I must admit I dreadfully expected, is that as of January 15th, 2003, MP3.com is discontinuing their Pay for Play (P4P) program. The P4P program paid independent artists 'royalties' every time their songs were listened to or downloaded. It was a wonderfully cool idea that, unfortunately, cost MP3.com more than it was worth to keep going. To quote MP3.com, "It's our goal to offer Premium Artists the best service for their money and tools that benefit all members. But this (P4P program) was getting more difficult given the enormous accounting, engineering, research and fulfillment costs that went into both the P4P promotion and regrettably, the monitoring of individuals gaming the system."

I, for one, am really going to miss the P4P program, and not just because of the drop in personal revenue. I'll miss it more because, using the earnings it generated, I was able invest heavily into MP3.com's promotion programs, all of which I applied with much success. This success lead not only to a ton of exposure for my music - over 1.2 million plays since I joined MP3.com - but to a continuing flow of CD sales from my own 'official' web site.

So, you might ask, "David, why don't you just drop MP3.com and move on?" Actually, many independent artists are doing just that (and have been for some time), but I'm not ready to bail out yet. Why? Because there is one thing MP3.com offers that most other services can't quite match: pure, Internet traffic.

Imagine having your CDs on the shelves of one of the world's largest music stores, sitting side-by-side with CDs by artists like Madonna, Linkin Park, and Pink. Imagine the exposure potential, especially if you could, through careful placement, get your music directly in front of the people most likely to buy your music. Any of these potential customers, with a click of a button, can preview your music right on the spot.

That's what MP3.com *still* offers independent artists. In this regard, especially considering the volume of traffic they generate from people looking for new music while listening to 'popular' artists, no one else I know comes close to offering this opportunity.

With the P4P program dead, however, I can only speculate what the future might look like for independent artists promoting their music on MP3.com. I won't get any clarity on that issue until long after the new changes go into effect. MP3.com states with a great deal of conviction that they are still dedicated to helping and serving the independent music community. I truly hope this is the case, but I wonder, with the financial demands of the corporate music realm, will MP3.com really be able to keep us 'indie's' hanging around?

MP3.com has found itself in a very awkward position, I think. It's a strange experiment gone haywire, a once-totally-independent web site that has been genetically grafted into the corporate music family. In some ways, MP3.com now resembles a free, but handicapped, version of Listen.com's Rhapsody service. MP3.com started out like a child with big dreams and ideas. Now it seems more like a confused teenager, trying to find its place in the changing digital world. Will it survive its adolescent years?

The future of MP3.com as a web site even seems uncertain. According to rumblings on the MP3.com Artists Boards, even 'SOPHIE,' a mysterious MP3.com employee and 'spokesperson for independent artists,' is being 'downsized.' Her last day at the company, rumor has it, is today, December 20th.

You may also recall my report from October, in which I mentioned that Universal Music Group has been in the process of reviewing which of its assets, including MP3.com,
they can dump to reduce their debt. Would it surprise anyone to find one day that typing http://www.mp3.com in your web browser forwards you to Rhapsody, PressPlay, or MusicNet?

For those of you who, like me, are still MP3.com artists, there are other alternatives around.
MusicDistribution.com lists a number of services that host independent music, including JavaMusic and AmpCast, both of which offer royalties for artists for downloaded songs.

I'm not ready to give up on MP3.com, though. I suppose in a way, I feel that after all I've invested in it, both in writing as well as financially and with my time, I've become a part of the MP3.com 'family.' As such I'll stand beside it through its victories, and perhaps even to its eventual deathbed, if that's where all this leads.

Still, I hope beyond hope, that we are not seeing the beginning of the end of MP3.com, and that, for the independent artist, the best is yet to come.

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David Nevue is the founder of The Music Biz Academy. He is also a professional pianist, recording artist, full-time Internet musician, and author of the book, "How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet."


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