Record biz online strategy, version 9.0

After months of rumours — and years of talking about it — MySpace is launching a comprehensive music service involving three of the four major record labels (for some reason that remains unknown, EMI wasn’t part of the announcement, although some say it will soon join the venture). According to PaidContent’s description of the conference call, which none of the labels participated in, the music service is a joint venture that will have separate management, and will involve downloads and possibly streams at some point, but may not be riddled with DRM.

Almost from the moment it became a social phenomenon, which would be three or four years ago now, MySpace has seemed like an ideal vehicle for music — and in many ways it has been an ideal vehicle for musicians to reach their fans, to communicate with them, to share tracks (or in many cases only short snippets of tracks, thanks to the paranoia of the record labels) and to generally build awareness. But it hasn’t been a great place to actually buy or sell music, despite being a giant platform for social networking between artists and fans.

Some of that could be blamed on a largely stillborn music venture with Snocap, the startup backed by Napster founder Shawn Fanning, which promised to allow musicians to sell songs through a Snocap store widget that could be embedded on artists’ pages. Although that too seemed like a great idea, it ran into technical difficulties and Snocap changed gears several times before finally laying off 80 per cent of its staff. The assets were later acquired by the music network Imeem, which also has deals with several of the major record labels.

According to MySpace, there are 5 million musical acts on the network and more than 110 registered users (although some of them are likely people like me, who registered just so they could see someone’s profile, and have rarely been back since). So it seems like a slam-dunk to turn at least some of those 5 million into revenue-generating opportunities. So why hasn’t MySpace been able to do it before now? The record labels themselves are partly to blame for that, of course (and reading between the lines it seems as though this venture is at least in part a peace treaty to settle the lawsuit between Universal and MySpace).

Whether this new venture can break some of those old rules remains to be seen.

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