Facebook's Listen Button, Timeline Challenge Developers and Artists
-- Facebook's expansion of its Timeline layout in April and the debut this week of its Listen button are presenting new challenges for the companies that provide direct-to-fan applications built specifically for the popular social network. But don't believe that Facebook apps are now worthless, executives tell Billboard.biz.
The Listen button appears on an artist's Facebook page -- in a prime location next to the like button -- and links the user to a music service such as Spotify, Mog or Slacker. Facebook will default to a particular service the listener uses the most. If you're a frequent Spotify listener, clicking the Listen button will play the artist's five most popular songs and then run through the rest of the catalog in the order it appears on the artist's Spotify page.
The big question is the degree to which these changes reduce the usefulness of the apps built for Facebook by BandPage, ReverbNation, FanBridge, FanRx and others companies and used by millions of artists around the world. First, Timeline made the artist's main page the default entry point, pushing music apps off the main page and onto less visited secondary pages. Next, the Listen button replaced the apps' streaming function. As a result, fewer people are seeing apps that used to be a common sight.
"We're pretty indifferent to whether or not there's a listen button up there or not," ReverbNation CEO Mike Doernbeg says.
He explains the company provides both apps for Facebook and a digital distribution service that puts artists' music in subscription services' catalogs. As a result, ReverbNation is neutral in how an artist chooses to reach people.
"In the end we want the artist to choose -- we think that's a good thing," he says. "Whether an artist chooses to use Spotify or they choose to use some other vehicle is really up to them."
Gray Blue, director of music industry relations at FanBridge, doesn't think the Facebook listen button will spell the end of direct-to-fan applications, but he acknowledges that it's a "brilliant move" that makes Facebook a force in streaming music. "Facebook has taken the lesson MySpace learned and made a better decision," he says. "They chose not to do the licensing agreements."
There's no denying the impact Timeline has had on the use of Facebook apps that stream music and video, however. ReverbNation's Fan Page application fell to 200,000 daily average users from above 350,000 from early to mid April, according to AppData. The traffic of FanRx's Facebook application plummeted from over to just under 50,000 daily average users from 250,000.
Bandpage, formerly RootMusic, could be more exposed to the impact of Timeline than its competitors because its business is focused on developing for the Facebook platform. Its app's daily users have fallen to about 200,000 per day from above 600,000 before Timeline was fully implemented in early April. Cynics aren't hard to find. "BandPage might as well close their doors right now," says one person at a digital music startup.
BandPage did not respond to Billboard.biz's request for comment.
But don't write off Facebook apps just yet. There are good reasons for app developers to continue making Facebook apps and for artists to continue to demand them. For starters, not everybody who visits a Facebook page uses one of the music services connected to the Play button. Facebook has about 165 million U.S. users. Subscription services currently linked to the Listen button (Spotify, Mog, Rdio) have somewhere between five million and 10 million active users. Slacker Radio claimed to have six million active users back in September. Those numbers are sure to rise over time, but there's little doubt the Play button cannot serve even a small percentage of current Facebook users.
In addition, Facebook apps allow for the kind of narrow marketing needed by artists and labels. Timeline is a blunt marketing tool. App developers allow for more precise marketing. FanRx co-founder David Nelson explains that a pre-release campaign that targets a specific song or album needs more than Facebook's Play button. He adds that the introduction of Timeline means artists will have to put more effort into driving traffic to Facebook apps.
"We're trying to educate people and make them realize they're going to have to reach out to fans a little more. They're going to have to use social a little more."
Jennie Smyth, president of marketing agency Girlilla Marketing, says the Play button isn't ideal for her company's targeted marketing efforts. "Say I want to have them listen to an exclusive acoustic track that's very time sensitive. Since I am not sure how the process will be to coordinate having that play first in each of the services, and I can't control the user preference, it's easier for me to keep them on my own page. I do think it's a great addition to the pages, but for an artist I like having creative control."
Even though developing for Facebook presents occasional challenges, the platform is still an invaluable marketing channel, ReverbNation's Doernberg says. "We fully expect Facebook to continue making changes and give us and the artist very little notice," he says. "The thing we've all got to appreciate about Facebook is we all think of Facebook as this enormous company, but they're still figuring it out, too. As they figure things out, we should expect to feel the ripples of that."
Social Media Continues Rise
-- Social media is on track to surpass Web portals as the most engaging content category on the Web. From December 2010 to December 2011, portals' share of Web activity fell 3.6 percentage points, while social media rose 2.2 points and email fell 1.7 points, according to comScore.
( comScore Voices blog)
TuneCore Library Distributed by Deezer
-- TuneCore's library is now being distributed to Deezer, the music subscription based in France and available in the United Kingdom. Deezer claims to currently have 20 million total streaming users around the world (it does not specify if those 20 million are active users or merely registered users) and six million unique visitors per month in France (roughly one out of every 11 people in the country, based on the World Bank's 2010 population estimate of 64.9 million). This deal highlights the global nature of digital distribution. Other services to recently ink deals with TuneCore include iTunes Latin America, simfy and Google Play.
TuneCore has also signed a unique direct licensing deal with Deezer for users of TuneCore's new service for songwriters. The deal means an artist who uses TuneCore for both digital distribution and songwriting administration will receive royalties for both the sound recording and composition copyrights. An independent artist without a songwriting administration deal is typically paid only for the sound recording royalties.