After undergoing more than its share of redesigns, job cuts and executive changes, Myspace is finally admitting it needs a way out. Chief Executive Mike Jones told an all-hands meeting of staff at the struggling social network that a spin-off, merger or sale is under consideration, according to Bloomberg.
Rumors of a potential sale have been making the rounds almost since the day Rupert Murdoch bought the site back in 2005 for $580m, but the real question is: Who, precisely, would want to buy Myspace right now?
If the site’s looking to spin off, it needs to find investors who think there’s a serious, profitable future in its business. Those investors are scarce; Myspace has neither the scale of Facebook (figures suggest MySpace now has around 65 million users worldwide, compared to Facebook’s 500 million) nor the utility of LinkedIn. If it wants to sell or merge, on the other hand, it needs to find a company that thinks it’s worth buying, and there are very few companies who might around these days.
In its earlier days, the natural home for the site, perhaps, was a company like MTV: a brand desperate to capture the youth market, the music world, and stay connected to its audience. With Myspace’s mojo gone, that seems unlikely now. Other potential purchasers? Once, that might have been Facebook, maybe, but the company is way too big to care today. AOL (which wouldn’t be a terrible fit) has already been burned enough with Bebo. And Google, though desperate to buy its way to social success, would surely not want to touch damaged goods.
Really, Jones’ comments are the final admission that News Corp. was always the wrong deal, and Rupert Murdoch the wrong buyer.
Of course, it made some kind of sense at the time. Murdoch’s greatest skill is selling exclusivity — peddling material you can’t get anywhere else, whether that’s through deal-making or rule-breaking.
His newspapers and broadcast channels have followed this master plan well, offering Hollywood movies, opinionated news, titillating tabloid reporting, financial insight and major sports deals as a hook to get people buying.
That scheme was always going to be headed for trouble once the Internet started rolling, since it’s pretty good at killing exclusivity. But, for a while at least, Myspace promised exactly what Murdoch was looking for: By becoming the go-to place for musicians on the web, it was a way to stuff the cat back into the bag and create exclusivity where it didn’t exist previously.
The trouble is, if your advantage is that you’re better than everybody else, then you have to work really hard to stay that way. Otherwise, all it takes is some kid from Harvard to come up with something less ugly and you’re suddenly passé. We all know how that ended up: Murdoch’s Internet empire is left manufacturing exclusivity by using paywalls or iPad-only news.
So what does Myspace have left that it can offer buyers? Musicians and fans don’t care any more. They sell their music through iTunes, talk to their fans on Twitter and let YouTube take care of videos.
All Myspace really has to offer is an out-of-date reputation and the personal details of some 65 million users who — for the large part — don’t care what happens to it.
That leaves its best options are probably lower tier competitors like Hi5 or Friendster, or somebody who really just wants to purchase a huge but rapidly expiring database of identities. Perhaps its best exit is to end up just how it started: as a vast spam trap.
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