Many news articles in the past week have reported dramatic variants of “MP3 is Dead!”, so we wanted to publish a short post about the topic since it relates to file formats and providing access to e-records. I came across a blog article by a web developer and realized there was more to the story than just writing MP3 off as an obsolete format.
As a matter of routine, our team is focused more on how long to keep records, but we also research digital preservation methods and access strategies. It would have taken me several days to switch gears from our normal work to figure out the best take-away to share regarding the news about MP3s, so I turned to TSLAC’s own Electronic Records Specialist, Mark Myers, for some insight. He said,
“The format isn’t ‘dead’ it’s just that the last patent controlling (the patent dealt with the method of compression) it has expired. In that vein it is actually good, in that it is now a more open format. It’s based on the MPEG standard which is an open standard that has been around for a long time. And MP3 has become a fairly universal packaging standard for audio files on the internet.
The ‘dead’ part comes from the fact that because it did have a patent controlling it, and it is in essence a very lossy format, there are a lot of other better quality formats out there that folks have started using, even for access. On the whole, it’s just not a very good format.
Basically, MP3 isn’t going away soon, but it had already started on a downward slide of becoming a viable but little used format.”
So don’t fret if you have any MP3s; the files themselves are not ‘dead’. Would it be a good idea to start thinking of converting to higher quality formats with longer life expectancy? Probably!