MySpace Web Traffic Boosts, But Still Isn't Pretty; Facebook Drops Slightly
-- MySpace gained more U.S. visitors and Facebook lost a few in February, according to new figures from comScore.

MySpace jumped 8 spots to #42 in comScore's list of most visited U.S. web properties in February. The Specific Media-owned site attracted 25.5 million unique U.S. visitors in February, up from 25.1 million in January. MySpace may have launched a new - yet unimpressive - music player in December and can count Justin Timberlake as an active investor, but the site needs to find itself. To see how far it has fallen, check out MySpace search traffic at Google Trends. From 2004 through today, the trend line is nearly a perfect bell curve. Most telling is that U.S. MySpace search traffic at Google continues to head south in 2012.

Facebook actually dropped a bit in February, from 163.5 million uniques in January to 158.7 million uniques in February. Because the number of U.S. Internet users held steady at roughly 220 million, the percent of total Internet users who visited Facebook dropped to 72.2% in February from 74.3% in January.

Facebook had 160.9 million in June, 162.1 million in July, 162.4 million in August, 163 million in September and 166 million in October.

The real Internet star lately has been Pinterest, the social network favored by women in flyover states. Its traffic has tripled its number of U.S. unique visitors since November. The site's traffic grew to 17.8 million uniques in February from 11.7 million in January, 7.5 million in December and 4.9 million in November. It was a buzzword at SXSW Interactive and has been widely covered in the media lately, including a lengthy write-up from Fortune. ( comScore press release)

European Commission Continuing Universal-EMI Investigation
As Billboard.biz reported Friday, the European Commission (EC) will continue its investigation of the proposed merger of Universal Music Group and EMI Muisc's recorded music division. A decision will be reached by August 9.

The EC revealed its feelings on the merger when it noted the combined entity would be "almost twice the size of the next largest player" in the European Economic Area and would lack sufficient restraint "by the remaining competitors on the market, by its customers' buyer power, and/or by the threat of illegal music consumption."

A few thoughts here:

First, the EC doesn't appear to believe at this point that Apple's dominant market share would be an adequate check against the market share of a combined company. Universal will certainly make this argument to the EC.

Second, the EC is smart enough not to expect a major shift in the marketplace in the near future. If music sales were going to radically shift from retail to social network-driven direct-to-fan sales, for example, the EC need not be concerned about Universal's power over retailers and digital service providers. Market share matters only when the derived power can be exercised up and down the supply chain. A traditional market can be influenced by market share far more than a market of decentralized, direct-to-fan transactions. If the EC read marketing guru Seth Godin, it might think record labels are being replaced by direct marketing efforts of long-tail artists. In this regard, however, the EC chose to remain on Planet Earth.

Third, the EC has the difficult task of establishing a threshold Universal cannot cross. If Universal's current 32% market share is not too big, what would make an additional 8% cause for rejecting the merger? Universal does not want to go from 32% to 64% market share, it's asking only for an additional 8 percentage points. Does a 40% share grant too much power over vendors, retailers or consumers? Does it give Universal too much say in which digital music startups make it to market? In other words, the EC will have to explain the difference between big and too big. ( Billboard.biz)

Hype Machine Survived Four Years, But Others of its Peers Did Not
What a difference four years makes. Hype Machine founder Anthony Volodkin points to a June 2008 reader survey by Music Ally that asks which in a list of 11 music startups will have the biggest impact in the following year.

The results show how difficult it is to pick a winner in digital music. There are many variables at play: the size of the music catalog, the quality of the product and the quality of management, among others. The one factor that seems destined to ruin a music service's chances of success is the likelihood of copyright infringement lawsuits.

Some assets of the first pick, iMeem (with 45.6% of votes), were acquired by MySpace in December 2009 after the company was fined $1.77 million in a copyright infringement lawsuit. MySpace promptly shut down the service. The third pick, ad-supported download service Qtrax (35%), has had several aborted launches and appears to be missing in action again after reappearing at this time last year.

Voters were dead-on about a couple music services, Songza/Seeqpod (3.5%) and Muxtape (2.9%). Seeqpod filed for bankruptcy protection in April 2009 due to copyright infringement lawsuits brought against the company. Songza, which originally used Seeqpod to power its streaming service, was acquired by Amie Street and has been reincarnated as a very good non-interactive webcaster with a wide selection of handcrafted playlists. Muxtape invited copyright infringement problems and shut down just two months after the survey, although it returned with a safer model a few months later.

Some music services on the short list have survived over the years, however. The second pick, Omnifone Musicstation (37.9%), the platform that powers music services for Sony, Telenor, Vodafone, RIM and others. We7 (24.3%) has changed its model from ad-supported downloads and then ad-supported on-demand streaming before settling upon ad-supported non-interactive streaming. ( Fascinated.fm)

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