Wednesday, September 27

Is MySpace missing the biggest opportunity?

Yesterday I was listening to Taxi Ride interviewed on 2BL, and there was yet another independent band praising MySpace for its role in finding new markets for their music. It's clear that MySpace is now an important marketing tool for the music industry as a whole - it's gone way beyond the Arctic Monkeys phenomenon. My own music label certainly uses MySpace as its central point of communication - we work hard on attracting new visitors, encouraging them to sign up as friends, and then to buy our artist's music. We do this only because it works - it does everything from introduce us to new artists we might use as a support act, to keeping a dialogue going with keen fans, to actually selling music online for us.
While listening to the radio I was struggling with managing the MySpace profiles for our artists. Struggling because marketing music is a multi-user project thing, and MySpace's platform architecture is a Geopages-era single-user homepage publishing platform. (Actually, I'd hesitate to call MySpace a "platform" because it's so buggy - ridden with database and server errors - and its user interface design follows its own broken internal logic that new users must learn, if they want to do anything useful on MySpace. Let's call MySpace a "Web Heap" instead.)
To market an artist on MySpace, different members of my team need to have access at different times, for different purposes. Each member of the team needs to know who has responded to which comments from fans, who is going to upload new demo tracks, and needs to edit and approve new blog posts and comments. That's all really hard to do when a MySpace profile has only one user attached to it, and there's no reporting on what's been done.
Then it occurred to me: MySpace may be missing out on a massive business opportunity - to deliver a 'MySpace music management platform" for artists, labels, PR people, advertisers, distributors and retailers.
Right now, MySpace's attention is on the buying side of the equation, rather than the selling side. MySpace understands that it can make a lot of money out of the online music industry, but so far it's been focussing on selling content and ads to its teen users. Which is valid, after all, since we know they are likely to purchase online.
But there are problems with that audience: they are unlikely to have a credit card, or to have much disposable income. They are fickle, and as soon as you make something so successful that it becomes mainstream, you lose them. Most importantly, the nature of the content they publish on MySpace and the interactions they have with other users makes brand marketers shy away - there's a lot of weird, kinky stuff going on. While that continues to be the case, the revenue MySpace can earn from marketing and advertising will be lumpy, unpredictable, and prone to potential PR disasters of the "I was raped by a man I met on MySpace" kind.
Meanwhile, there's the entire-frickin'-music-industry and all of its associated support industries pedalling as hard as they can to grasp how to market music content and sell it online and via mobiles. They don't just have credit cards, they have expense accounts, and they have credit limits that would allow them to purchase nice fat yearly subscriptions to a new MySpace Professional platform.
What would a MySpace Pro include? I can expand on the thinking later, but as a teaser, let's consider:
- Multi-user access to one profile page, with levels of editing permission
- Group communication functionality, so multiple users can assign tasks, share a calendar and documents, without that being available on the public MySpace profile for the artist
- Better management of email communication with the fan list, along the lines of any commercial email marketing package
- Mobile marketing tools (like, we're playing a show in Houston, can we SMS all our fans in that  town to let them know?)
- 'in-line' views of the public profile, so that you can see at a glance who replied to that fan comment, and when.
- A reporting module with user data on stuff like new friends added, listens, purchases and user paths
- A stats module with 'site' data like pageviews, referrals, search engine keywords, popular pages
- [stretch goal] ecommerce integration so we can associate activity on the MySpace profile with an actual purchase from iTunes, CDBaby or Amazon
All this must surely remain a sad, crazy dream, since MySpace is a business clearly struggling just to stay on-top of its current consumer web platform (sorry, "webheap"). Without significant investment in new development there'd be no way to get MySpace Pro up and running, and the only investment I've seen evidence of so far has been in advertising sales and marketing.
Still, what a great dream!

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