Can MySpace really take on Apple’s iTunes in the music space?

26 Sep 2008

It seems these days that the music industry is really opening itself up to working with every avenue of potential revenue, be it Samsung with its slotMusic device, Nokia with its all-you-can-eat for a year music model and now MySpace, which has developed a music site eerily reminiscent of iTunes.

It emerged this morning that Rupert Murdoch’s social networking play MySpace has unveiled a long-anticipated venture with EMI Music, Sony BMG, Universal Music and Warner Music that will see it compete head-on with Apple’s iTunes service.

The final piece in the jigsaw, a deal with EMI, was hammered out late last night.

MySpace has also signed a licensing deal with The Orchard, a large independent music distributor that is a joint venture between Sony Corporation and Michael Jackson.

The social networking doyenne’s service will go live initially with hundreds of thousands of songs, but will have its work cut out competing with Apple’s iTunes store, which has more than 8.5 million tracks ready to download and can claim first-mover advantage in the space for some five years.

In terms of business structure, all four music labels – Sony, Universal, EMI and Warner – will hold equity stakes in MySpace Music.

It is not clear yet how much revenue percentage the music labels will get from MySpace.

MySpace, which has been in the social networking business since 2003, was last year overtaken by Facebook in terms of monthly unique visitors, but still attracts a hefty payload of 230,000 visitors per day.

The one ace up MySpace’s sleeve is the fact that new bands and established acts see MySpace as intrinsic to growing their audience and stamping their identity on the popular imagination.

The means to check out a band and help them monetise alongside well-known acts, at the same time as interacting with fans, could position MySpace Music as an enduring force in the tumultuous world of online music.

However, Apple can rely on an established global base of 150 million iPod owners, a large portion of whom buy their tracks from iTunes. To date, Apple has sold more than five billion songs through iTunes.

How interoperable the downloaded tracks are to play on iPod devices will be the difference between MySpace Music’s steady growth, or the ignominy of being just another tool in the music industry’s growing armoury of mediums aimed at clawing back growth.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: MySpace Music will compete head-to-head with iTunes music

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years