MySpace has announced that it is cutting half of its staff and are closing its international operations. It may not be a huge deal for social networking more broadly, but it does have significance for the music space. MySpace may not have been a force in the social networking marketplace for some time, but it's still a force in music discovery. This announcement though is no surprise. Back in December 2009, I wrote of MySpace:
"Though they’re unlikely to admit it, the mainstream social networking race against Facebook is as good as over. By contrast they remain the No. 1 destination for artist communities online, yet without a major reinvention they’ll start to feel the competitive pressure bite there also."
The major reinvention came far too late, and it was too little.
Ironically, even though MySpace let basic usability and functionality stutter, artists stuck with it because that’s where their audiences were. A host of much more competitive and differentiated alternatives came to the fore, focusing on subsets of the broader MySpace music value proposition. Sites like Sellaband, Bandcamp, SoundCloud, and PledgeMusic each have very different value propositions, but all took from MySpace the baton of developing the artist-fan relationship and ran with it.
Interestingly, despite all this innovation and the continued demise of MySpace as a social networking destination, it clung on to its position as the place for artists on the Web. Until, that is, Facebook finally started to take the space seriously. After a slow start, artist pages on Facebook have rapidly stolen the momentum. Artists are flocking in their droves to Facebook, leaving their MySpace pages to wither and many are even closing down their own websites. After all, where else are you going to get access to an audience of the scale that Facebook brings?
And there’s the rub. Facebook doesn’t (yet) offer the same depth of discovery tools and artist tools that MySpace or other artist sites do, but it’s where artists’ fans are. Almost every artist’s fans. That is an invaluable asset that artists, their managers, and their labels are waking up to, and fast.
For a long time now, people have asked when Facebook will get into music. It already is. This is the play that makes sense for it. It doesn't need to launch a music service. Facebook’s platform play enables the likes of iLike to provide music experiences and vendors such as MXP4 and RootMusic to enrich artist pages.
Whilst MySpace has its life support turned off, Facebook can sit back and watch artists continue to come its way. MySpace helped revolutionize the artist-fan relationship, but it learned the hard way that it’s the early follower that typically wins, not the first mover.