MySpace Update Focuses On Music

Erin McKeown

hide captionErin McKeown says that while MySpace was once an essential tool for connecting to fans, it's now just one of many websites that offer similar utility.

Nancy Palmieri/MySpace

Back in 2005, when social networking site MySpace was getting the credit for helping bands like the Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen break through to a wide audience, music was only part of the site's functionality. These days, it's looking more like a crutch.

MySpace's bosses hope music can return the favor, and maybe be something like a launching pad to a different kind of success for the site. In recent weeks, MySpace has been in the midst of a makeover, and now the one-time leader in social networking is being rebranded as an "entertainment network," a place where users can organize their preferences for bands, TV shows and movies, or share playlists with other users.

"The new product we're introducing is something that the Web hasn't seen before," says MySpace CEO Mike Jones. "We're focused on this category termed 'social entertainment,' to basically give everyone a very personalized entertainment experience around celebrities, TV, music and movies that they love."

For the site, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., the reorientation may actually be a last grasp at social relevance. Myspace, with about 130 million users, has lost the social networking race to Facebook, which counts nearly half a billion members. One year ago, Myspace had 76 million visitors in the month of October, according to Comscore, a company that tracks online traffic. Last month that number was down nearly 20 million, and the amount of time people spent on the site had dropped by more than half.

Musician Erin McKeown, who started using the site in 2004, says that though MySpace was once an essential tool for getting her music to fans, it's now just one of many options.

"My record label at the time said this is where people are going to go to get music. You need to have a presence," McKeown says. Now, she says, "there's just so many places for people to go and get information about tour dates and listen to your music and find out more about you. I feel like I need to have a hand in all of them. MySpace for me happens to be at the bottom of that list."

For club owners like Scott McClean, of Portland, Ore. nightclub Holocene, MySpace was once a revolutionary tool for hearing new bands that he might want to book at the venue. Not only could you listen to a band's songs without weeding through stacks of CDRs, but you could see whether or not other people were listening.

Because sites like Bandcamp, Topspin, Sonicbids and Reverb Nation now exist and have in some cases have improved upon Myspace's once catch-all utility for bands, the site may not even be able to rely upon the musicians who once gave Myspace its best publicity.

"I don't hear anybody saying 'You know, wow, this is a really clever move on MySpace's part,'" says Nancy Baym, a communications professor at the Unviersity of Kansas. Baym has been interviewing artists who use the site as part of a study on social networks.

"If you want to connect around film and television, there's two billion sites to go do it on and so they have to offer something really compelling that makes people want to do it there rather than elsewhere," Baym says.

MySpace CEO Mike Jones says what the site will offer is a kind of concierge service tailored to users' individual preferences.

"If you want to say, for instance, find all things Glee, you can go to a page, you can follow Glee as a topic, and you're going to see all the photos and all the videos and all the articles about Glee happening all over the Web. And that'll be delivered to you personally," Jones says.

But even its parent company has expressed some skepticism. News Corp. has told investors that if MySpace doesn't light up, Murdoch may pull the plug.

Augie Ray, a tech analyst at Forrester Research, says that MySpace still has a fighting chance, largely because it still has tens of millions of users.

"I'm more confident," Ray says, "because I see the opportunity that exists based on how much people talk about their favorite entertainment. And if MySpace can tap any portion of that to a significant extent, they'll be very successful."

Even here, though, Facebook could have an edge, one spun out of its own success: Though it is still seen largely as a social network, Facebook has companies building apps to make it a better site for entertainment.

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