Myspace is trying to achieve what made Steve Jobs and Tina Turner legendary: a successful second act. But the former king of social networks has failed to win over consumers and musicians since its re-launch as a music discovery platform.
In the latest example of its ongoing transition, Myspace laid off nine people at the end of June, just seven months after the company shed 5 percent of its workforce. Other staffers have left for better opportunities, including Joseph Patel, who ran Myspace's editorial team before leaving for The Fader, and Neda Azarfar, who joins the Recording Academy. Myspace does not reveal the number of its employees. It is part of the 650-person Interactive Media Holdings division of parent company Specific Media.
Myspace's January 2013 re-launch had a mix of high awareness and low expectations. Media coverage had been high since news broke in 2011 that Justin Timberlake was part of Specific Media's $35 million acquisition from News Corp., which paid $600 million for the site in 2006. Specific Media CEO Tim Vanderhook and COO Chris Vanderhook aggressively sold the site as a destination for creative types. But with the understanding that online properties often have short shelf lives, the music industry took a wait-and-see attitude.
It's been a year-and-a-half of near-anonymity. "You know they are failing with this one question: when was the last time you saw a MySpace link or reference on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or Instagram?" asks Gretchen Fox, co-founder of the Made To Order Agency.
Most problematic is the music-centric site’s reputation within the artist community. Sources at management companies believe Myspace has little value as a marketing tool and has not been relevant since its re-launch. Artists that do work with Myspace are attracted to the exclusive content and Specific Media's ability to use its advertising inventory to drive traffic to their content.
Bill Schild, Myspace's svp Global Marketing, insists a turnaround plan is in place, and some former employees tell Billboard the recent layoffs were strategic in nature and the company's mission of promoting developing artists remains unchanged. "We have evolved and we continue to shift our business," says Schild.
Its efforts are starting to bearing fruit. Myspace attracted 28.3 million unique U.S. visitors in June, according to comScore. Although its traffic is a fraction of popular discovery sites like Facebook and Twitter, Myspace has increased visitors 356 percent, from 6.2 million in January. Myspace attributes the growth to design changes and improvements in the mobile experience.
Gone is the site’s underwhelming design, disliked throughout the music industry and by users. The mobile experience was poor. The site was even time-consuming for artists. "Things nowadays have to be dead-ass simple," says one management executive.
Myspace admits as much. "We had to be different," says Schild, explaining the company wanted to relaunch with a product "that was completely different from the original Myspace." The result was a site too far from the norm and too difficult to navigate. "You didn't know where to go next," says Schild.
Recent hires in product and video are meant to improve the biggest weaknesses. The most notable additions are Mitchell Pavao and Brett Woitunski, co-founders of music site PureVolume and social network Virb who were most recently at SpinMedia. Pavao will lead Myspace's technology team while Woitunaki will focus on design and user experience.
The content continues to evolve, too. Last week, Myspace revived its Secret Shows with a Spoon concert in New York. In March, the company launched a live music video series, Wilcox Sessions, featuring new artists such as De Lux, Belle Brigade and Sir Sly.
While Myspace tries to right the ship, people wonder how much time it has to overcome the near-anonymity of its final days with News Corp. "They were so far outside the conversation, it was hard for them to get back in the conversation," says the management company executive.