Facebook is rumoured to be on the verge of integrating a number of music services including Spotify into its platform. The ‘when will Facebook take on iTunes’ question is one which refuses to go away, but it’s the wrong question to ask. Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t want to take on iTunes, in fact he wants to co-exist. Facebook, as the early-follower of social networking allowed first movers like MySpace to make the mistakes from which it could learn invaluable lessons. MySpace’s much vaunted but ultimately unsuccessful music service is one such lesson.
Zuckerberg’s music strategy is simple:
Make Facebook an integral part of the music experience without ever getting bogged down in paying to license the music from record labels.
Partnering with Spotify et al fits perfectly into this smart strategy. Music has always been social but until the advent of social networks we had to rely on our friends and family for recommendations. In the social age we have a much wider group of taste makers to tap in to. Similarly we can identify ourselves and our peers by our music on a much larger scale than ever before.
Social media enriches music consumption in a way that was not previously possible. Zuckerberg gets this and he wants to ensure the process goes further, much further. He wants social to become the glue that holds the music consumption and discovery experiences together, to such an extent that music companies simply can’t survive without it. And he wants to do the same for TV, movies and other media too. Why? It is the safeguard against Facebook ‘doing a MySpace’.
In its heyday it was hard to imagine that MySpace would ever be anything other than the world’s dominant social network. Its rapid decline is a sobering reminder that not only is nothing permanent, but also that in the digital world it can tumble with terrifying rapidity. MySpace failed because it was dispensable. Thus when the new kid in town arrived the crowds flocked away in their droves.
Facebook is neither invincible nor immortal. Though it is much more deeply embedded than MySpace ever was, all that it needs is something new to do what Facebook does better and more. So in this context making Facebook a core component of 21st century media consumption is a bid at future-proofing it against a world in which mainstream social networking goes elsewhere.
Ironically if the strategy works the music industry may save Facebook but Facebook may do little to save the music industry. That will only happen if (and hopefully when) the industry starts to truly embrace social music as the foundation stone of a new generation of music products and services.