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MySpace Music: Three major labels apply eyeshadow

News Corp has announced the launch of MySpace Music -- a joint venture with Sony BMG, Warner Music and Universal, to sell DRM-free digital downloads and other merchandise. We investigate

MySpace has announced it is to launch a digital music download service to rival iTunes and Amazon, and has three of the four major worldwide record labels on board.

The service, originally named MySpace Music, will launch within the next few months, offering DRM-free, paid-for downloads, free streaming music, ringtone sales and other merchandise. MySpace already lets artists host, stream and download their music for free, but this aims to unify the discovery and purchase of music as a single product.

It'll be operated jointly by Sony BMG, Warner Music, Universal and News Corp's MySpace. With joint equity in the venture, it's currently unclear what control the record labels will have over the development and execution of these new services.

MySpace is arguably the biggest online destination for music fans (note the use of 'fans', not 'shoppers') in the world, with 30 million of the site's 110 million users actively listening to the thousands of established and unsigned bands who promote their music through the site. Many bands include their MySpace URL on the back of their CDs.

But there's a huge problem, and one it's likely the record labels are glossing over in their current desperation to salvage declining sales. That problem is that the 110 million MySpace users are not going to the site to spend money -- they're going to talk with their friends, tell lead singers they're hot and to show off their individuality by copying each others' page layouts and clothing styles.

Conversely, juggernauts such as iTunes and Amazon have one mission -- to sell music. People browse iTunes because they want to spend money, just like on Amazon. MySpace users have no intention of spending their pocket money, and in their panic to curb the decline of their archaic business model, Sony BMG, Universal and Warner Music appear to be naively convinced that monetising a social network -- even one built on musical foundations -- is going to reverse their fortunes.

Of all the social networks present today, however, MySpace is the only one that stands a chance at succeeding with this idea. In contrast to Facebook and Bebo, for example, MySpace at least attracts millions of users who solely want to hear music and interact with the people who make it, and if these download plans are integrated well enough, at correct prices and without restrictions, it might not fall flat on its face. At least to begin with.

The pages that sell downloads and products need to replicate iTunes' simplicity, but undercut its prices, blend it with the interactivity MySpace is known for and avoid cluttering the pages in the same way that artist and user pages are famous for doing now. It must be clean, functional, extremely competitive and above all -- above absolutely anything else -- MySpace needs to ensure that a band's profile never, ever appears to be an attractive storefront.

Interestingly, there's one more fact: MySpace Music doesn't have any exclusivity with the labels, meaning the Big Four -- well, Big Three in this instance -- are free to replicate this idea with other sites and other social networks.

It might well avoid falling flat on its face, like so many similar services before have done. But if we were offered the chance to invest in the business right now, we'd politely say we were short of cash and needed to save our change for the taxi home. -Nate Lanxon