MySpace announced this week that it clocked up 1m new users in January thanks to the launch of a new music player.
Traffic is still down 25% from the month of June (when News Corporation sold the once-dominant social network to Justin Timberlake and Specific Media) – but could the latest boost in user numbers herald a new beginning for MySpace?
Or is this a knock-on affect of a closer integration with Facebook – a similar tie-in for Spotify helped it grab an extra 7m users between September and December last year.
Pessimists suggest it’s simply MySpace’s death throes as it lurches towards inevitable bankruptcy.
To get a better idea of what the surge in users means for MySpace we asked four experts for their point of view.
In your opinion, could these 1m users be a sign that the tide is turning for MySpace, or is it just a temporary blip?
Henry Elliss, digital marketing director at Tamar: It certainly seems like MySpace is turning a corner, though what it has essentially done is completely change its focus – so you can no longer compare it against Facebook.
MySpace is never going to get back to the size or scale that it once was, but that is no longer the aim – if it could overtake Spotify for instance, then it would have made a significant move to dominate that particular market.
Dom Hodge, planning director at FRUKT Communications: MySpace has adjusted its proposition and is talking much more about nurturing talent and therefore appealing to a very specific audience – musicians, producers and to a lesser extent their fans.
There is certainly potential scale in this audience, but things have moved fast over the last few years and with services such as SoundCloud and Bandcamp offering compelling platforms it may be harder for MySpace to become dominant.
Simon Hilliard, client director at Racepoint Group: It’s too soon to tell if this is the beginning of the MySpace revival, but it does seem to be the point the company began to move in the right direction.
Given the changes to the site since it was bought, sold and bought again, it makes more sense to think of MySpace today as a different site to the one launched in 2003.
From that perspective, the new music player has attracted a good level of attention and momentum following an initial launch – more than most newly launched services can claim.
It’s not a completely fair view, as MySpace isn’t starting from the ground up.
It would be equally unfair to say this is a blip, but a high number of initial users does not guarantee momentum in the long term.
Matt Owen, social media manager at Econsultancy: I’m not sure that it signals a return to their former glory, but it certainly could indicate that they aren’t about to die as many expected.
While a million users is fairly small fry in social network terms, it’s still a lot of users – there are plenty of niche networks who roll happily on with similar numbers.
I could be wrong, but I don’t see MySpace making anyone huge profits for a while yet.
Focusing on its music library seems an obvious move for MySpace – why did News Corporation fail to see the potential?
HE: News Corp. clearly thought that MySpace could survive on its popularity alone, and failed to innovate or recognise the changing tide of social media users.
Friends Reunited made the same mistake, but didn’t have the clout or money behind it to keep throwing good money after bad, as MySpace did.
As much as we all chuckled when Timberlake came onboard with the new MySpace owners, it was clearly an early indicator as to where they wanted to take the site – and having somebody with his connections behind the project must have been a big boost.
DH: Music was a core building block in the early days of MySpace but its rapid growth had more to do with its use as a social networking – posting on walls, sharing videos and pictures and customising your own page.
Facebook simplified the functionality and provided a more compelling social experience; with hindsight MySpace should have retreated to safer territory (i.e. music) but the ambition of News Corp. was to be the number one social network.
It’s also fascinating to see how YouTube, and later Vevo, stole the march on music video, an area that MySpace also could have led in.
SH: It’s a very good question, especially considering Murdoch’s now infamous tweet regarding MySpace; “we screwed up in every way possible.”
The cost of running an unlimited streaming music business, or ‘freemium’ service, is high, and certainly not a proven business model.
It’s possible, if the model was ever considered by News Corp., it was rejected on these grounds.
In the meantime, services like Spotify were brave enough to pioneer the approach.
MO: I think that News Corp. was simply too focused on traditional media models.
Murdoch’s comments about Google on Twitter, and NC’s constant referral to paywalled content show a culture that just doesn’t understand digital.
MySpace has always had an excellent media player – it’s still far superior to Facebook’s in my opinion – and should have concentrated on its internal music community, rather than trying to be all things to everyone.
Hopefully it’s a lesson learned.
The increase in users has come after a closer integration with Facebook. Spotify also added several million users after its Facebook tie in – does the boost in users really just reflect Facebook’s strength rather than anything MySpace is doing differently?
HE: Yes, it could well be a reflection of the Facebook functionality. Spotify saw a big boost when it integrated, and the social nature of the stories it puts in your feed means that any app which integrates will probably see a boost.
DH: I think integration with Facebook was the only way to make MySpace more relevant. If they want to reach beyond just the music makers and give them a tool that’s useful, they need to let it live where the audience is.
SH: There’s a big different between user acquisition and user retention. Facebook has a huge reach and is a very valuable partner, but linking a poor service to Facebook doesn’t guarantee people will use it.
MySpace’s player is appealing, so it’s had high and steady growth over the last few months.
If these users stick around, and the service continues to attract more users in the coming months, it will be more to do with what MySpace is doing and less with the Facebook integration – but it’s too soon to tell for sure.
MO: I think it reflects the power of targeting – finding where your audience is, rather than dragging them to a siloed location.
If listeners are on Facebook then let them use the player there, rather than logging into two locations.
User behaviour is generally fairly lazy, so it was clever of MySpace to remove use barriers this way.
Is the MySpace brand too badly damaged now, or could it use its library of music (42m tracks vs 15m for Spotify) to challenge Spotify in the music streaming market?
HE: I don’t think it’s too badly damaged to make a comeback, though obviously in a different vertical. I think the key for them will be proving they’ve changed – doubtless they’ll make use of Timberlake as part of that.
A few big glossy TV campaigns and a couple of big ‘exclusive’ sign-ups could tip them over the edge – plus the fact that the player is browser-based, which Spotify isn’t in its main form.
I’ve never been MySpace’s biggest fan, but having had some recent issues with Spotify – not least of all the prices they charge for premium membership – I could easily be wooed-over to the dark side!
DH: I’d argue for quality over quantity when it comes to track numbers. Of the 42m tracks there will be a noticeable proportion of variable quality music – it’s a law of averages and it’s not unfair to say that not all music recorded, particularly that by budding talent, is relevant to a mainstream music consumer.
Having said that, digital platforms are encouraging fans to become more adventurous and eclectic in their tastes and having a wider catalogue can help capitalise on this.
The challenge will be giving them tools that help them discover it in an easy way – something that all music services have to consider.
For me, Spotify’s success in the streaming market is down to ease of use and quality of experience.
If MySpace wants to compete in this field it should consider this, not size of catalogue.
SH: There’s certainly the potential to challenge Spotify in the music space in the short term, and not just on catalogue size.
42m tracks is not only bigger than other streaming services but, to my knowledge, is more than iTunes or any other digital music service – and presumably includes content from all the major labels.
But it’s not all about size, so to speak. A big change in the music streaming space has been the move away from unlimited free streaming.
Unlimited streaming is an attractive prospect for consumers, but not a proven business model.
Spotify and others have abandoned it in favour of tiered paid-for services or restricted free offerings.
These are also still to be proven, but this is likely the direction MySpace will move in the medium term, should it attract enough users.
It seems unlikely, however, that MySpace can make the free, unlimited model profitable or sustainable where others haven’t managed it to date.
MO: I think branding is at the heart of things here. MySpace just isn’t cool anymore. It’s unlikely it will be again, but with a rebrand or white labelling the player could be incredibly useful and attractive to users.
It does depend on the quality of those tracks of course, but it’s still a very attractive option for those users who want to hear original, new music.
It may need to ramp up its search and consider app integration to truly compete, but there’s nothing wrong with offering an alternative either.