Four months ago, MySpace launched MySpace Music, and villagers readied their torches and pitchforks in protest. They had every right to be angry, since a platform that was built on the back of independent music had effectively left it in the dust, flipping indies the bird in the rear view mirror. This week, however, MySpace Music announced it has added five independent labels and indie music distributors to its ranks. Don't put your pitchforks down just yet, though.
According to Billboard and AdWeek, as of Thursday, Nettwerk, INgrooves, Iris Distribution, RoyaltyShare and Wind-Up Entertainment have joined MySpace Music, adding several hundred thousand songs to the service and bringing the total number of indie partners to seven. (MySpace Music partnered from the start with Sony ATV, which gave it access to indie distributors The Orchard and Fontana.)
Of course MySpace still hasn't struck a deal with Merlin, a collection of 12,000 indie labels who have been plenty vocal about their opposition to MySpace's business terms.
In particular, Merlin and others complain that the major labels are given equity stakes in the MySpace Music joint venture, while independent labels are not. This, they say, effectively means they are being asked to license their music to a service operated by competitors.
However, MySpace maintains that it remains committed to the independent music community, which has emerged as a major supporter of the social network. With a focus on music discovery and sharing, independent music is considered essential to the value of the new service.
"These important new partnerships will allow the MySpace Music community to access even more of their favorite independent music while enabling monetization opportunities for the newly licensed artists," said MySpace Music president Courtney Holt. "We are thrilled to have our new partners on board and will continue our aggressive content acquisition efforts."
Hopefully it's a step in the right direction. Maybe MySpace and the majors will take a tip from the Dutch on this one -- a recent study commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs found that downloading music is actually good for the economy. Everyone can get behind helping the economy, right?
Things get really interesting on page 116 as the report starts to dissect the societal effects of file sharing. The study concludes that the effects are strongly positive because consumers get to enjoy desirable content and also get to keep their cash to buy other things. Because the consumers save much more money than the producers lose, the net economic effects are positive. The report also reinforces the truth that unpaid downloads do not translate into lost sales in anything close to a one-to-one ratio.
The chances that we're going to convince the major labels that giving away their music for free is a good thing are probably slim to none. And slim probably just left town. But, check this out: the report also highlighted an important "sampling" effect, where unpaid downloads are used to sample music, some of which is subsequently bought.
The Dutch might be notoriously laid back about things we here in the U.S. tend to be a bit more, um, stringent about, but you can't deny a solid economic study, can you? A few more indies on MySpace Music, another country realizes downloading isn't the financial antichrist. Baby steps, but we're on the right path here.