June 15, 2011 at 8:08 am

CBS To Overhaul MP3.com as MP3′s Star Fades

Last week brought the news that CBS Interactive Music Group is rolling out a revamped version of MP3.com, with its once highly-prized domain name. The site will now be “partnered with” — or perhaps rolled into — an already-major player among music recommendation services, Last.fm, which is also owned by CBS.

CBS Interactive head David Goodman said on Music Week that a large proportion of MP3.com’s traffic comes from its search engine optimization (SEO) qualities, due to the way Google prioritizes results with a search term in the domain name.

“It’s mainly from search, as when people look for free music online, ‘MP3.com’ comes up,” said Goodman.

What practical effect this linkage will have on users of either site remains to be seen. The Music Week report indicates that MP3.com will become a destination for one million indie artists from Last.fm, which would constitute a return the original vision for the site back in the ’90s. (Disclosure: Evolver.fm editor Eliot Van Buskirk was editor of MP3.com when it was part of CNET, yet another CBS acquisition.)

When we asked for comment, a Last.fm spokeswoman suggested that the two sites would remain “separate entities” and said “nothing will change for Last.fm or its users as a result of the re-launch.”

CBS's MP3.com is not quite offline today.

A May 5 article on MP3.com says users will see “a whole new MP3.com” and that the relaunch will happen “later this [i.e. last] month.”

Apparently, there’s been some sort of delay. The site is currently just about offline (see screenshot to the right).

The Last.fm mobile app seems unlikely to change much. CBS says its focus is on MP3.com, which “is receiving a facelift [so that] the site can be reworked,” adding, somewhat vaguely that “the two sites will interact with one another.”

So is this the end of the line for “MP3.com” — and, if so, what does that say about the MP3 in this age of streaming and music apps?

What Goodman calls the “opportunity” for an MP3.com revamp may make some wonder how an attractive, storied URL like MP3.com could still find itself in need of an overhaul. Ultimately, this could be another sign that the “MP3″ itself could be passing into history.

The online music market is suffused with competing formats that offer significantly better quality (like FLAC) and are supported by big players like Apple (which continues to promote their own AAC in place of MP3). The small file size of the MP3 is less and less advantageous too, as storage capacities grow — and other formats, especially aacPlus, sound better at smaller sizes anyway.

Then, there are streaming services like Spotify, which use OGG instead — not that you’d know it, because it’s part of a post-MP3 world where listeners don’t “own” music, per se, in any format.

Even the once-mighty iPod brand, whose star ascended with that of the MP3, is of diminishing importance to its creator. As mentioned by Business Insider’s Dan Frommer, Apple is replacing the “iPod” button on its iOS devices with a “Music” button.

Of course MP3.com could continue to flourish — more likely by redirecting its proven SEO value to Last.fm than by relaunching as a destination in its own right. Otherwise, it faces an uphill battle in the long-term, given current trends away from the MP3 itself.