It takes a major player to challenge Apple's iTunes in the download market, and so far, nobody has been able to come close to the industry leader. But MySpace, which is to social networking what iTunes is to MP3s, thinks it has the answer.
The social-networking site announced on Thursday (April 3) that it has joined with Universal Music Group, Sony BMG and Warner Music Group to form the new MySpace Music, a service that will offer DRM-free MP3 downloads of songs and videos from the three major labels, as well as ad-supported video and audio streams, ringtones, merchandise and concert tickets.
"We're really excited to partner with these industry leaders to create the most ... innovative and dynamic music service on the marketplace and on the planet," MySpace cofounder and CEO Chris DeWolfe said in a conference call with reporters Thursday morning. "MySpace Music integrates the world's most popular music community with the most popular catalog of music content available online from the world's biggest music companies."
At press time, the other major label, EMI, had not yet signed on to the project. When asked if it would be joining in the future, DeWolfe said MySpace would like to "do business with everyone." The company is speaking to a number of other labels, both majors and independent, DeWolfe said, but he could not answer whether EMI would be part of the project.
DeWolfe said that the new features would be rolling out on the existing MySpace Music community over the next few months in the United States and would spread worldwide once international issues concerning rights are ironed out. He would not talk about financial specifics of the deal or nail down the exact price of the downloads, except to say that it would be "very competitive."
Though COO Amit Kapur said the download service would be available on "any device or computer," DeWolfe explained that MySpace realizes that many of its users own iPods, and "to whatever extent we can leverage the environment to make it accessible to iPods, we will do that."
Part of the deal reportedly involves Universal dropping its 2006 copyright-infringement suit against MySpace for an undisclosed settlement. Last year, industry leader Universal began limiting its artists from streaming full songs on MySpace, asking them to cut the clips down to 90 seconds. According to the New York Post (which, like MySpace, is owned by News Corp.), the deal does not involve the transfer of any money, but will give the label groups minority stakes in MySpace Music and a chance to participate in ad revenues that News Corp. hopes to generate from the service.
DeWolfe said the current MySpace Music site draws 30 million unique visitors a month and has more than 5 million artist pages, ranging from unknown, unsigned acts to major-label superstars.
"We believe that the Web is becoming increasingly more social, and MySpace Music is a new way of consuming and experiencing music online that everyone can participate in," DeWolfe said. "Today really represents the beginning of a new chapter in the story of modern music. We feel that modern music is about giving up control and taking the content to the people and letting the people define their own experience. Our goal is to empower users and artists to define their own music experience."
Given MySpace Music's already huge reach, DeWolfe added that the new venture is starting with a "big, big" head start on the competition. Asked if there are any exclusivity deals that would prevent such competitors as Facebook from cutting the very same deals with the labels, DeWolfe said he could not discuss that, but he again stressed that his company has a huge jump on rival sites because of its already large user base.
No indication was given of how many tracks the service would offer, but Kapur said that users would be able to stream all the songs in the catalog and use them to create and trade playlists.