One huge step forward one petty one backwards

Hot on the heels of Universal’s ground breaking announcement with Nokia, it is reported that Universal are limiting streams of their artists on MySpace to 30 seconds (and all other sites they don’t have ‘licensing terms with’). This is a short sighted move, and is counter to Universal’s otherwise forward thinking and innovative approach to digital. (Though this might be symptomatic of the possible internal structural divisions that Doug Morris’s apparent disconnect with much of Universal innovation hints at. And of course he is on record calling MySpace ‘copyright infringers’, along with YouTube who Universal signed a deal with the day after the comment…)

Music on Social Networks is all about discovery, but that discovery experience depends upon being immersed and really experiencing. If you go to a Universal artists page on MySpace you get a rapid succession of 30 second samples of the four tracks cycled round like some amateur DJ mash up. It certainly does not encourage you to stay at the site for more than a minute or two, or at the very least you’ll want to turn off the sound. Which of course completely defeats the purpose of artist pages on social networks. I don’t just want to be able to say ‘ah yes, that’s the track I was thinking of’, I want to be able to listen to new tracks for the first time and then go on and buy music if I like it. 30 second clips are poor discovery tools. Which is the best discovery tool: 30 second iTunes clips or Last.Fm? The question doesn’t need answering.

And most importantly, artist pages on MySpace actually drive people to buy music. Our research shows that more than a quarter of European social networkers buy music of artists they’ve discovered on MySpace or Bebo (it’s nearly half in the UK).

One of the reasons the Nokia announcement is so important is because it tacitly accepts that the dominant means of selling music online is simply not working. That the one which will, will probably be something very different from a straight transactional relationship, most likely something with a strong experiential element. Which is of course the strength that MySpace artist pages play to. Until those next generation models are defined, Universal shouldn’t be trimming samples to 30 seconds in order to squeeze licensing revenues out of Murdoch, instead they should be getting him to launch a MySpace digital download store to drive that quarter up to a half and more across all of Europe. In the meantime, get those full length songs back and let people really discover the music of great Universal artists.