Myspace – the pioneering social network that was all but left for dead at the dawn of the Facebook era – is relaunching today with a splashy new design emphasizing artists and musicians, backed by a $35 million investment from partners led by Justin Timberlake. The redesign has a strikingly modern feel, combining elements from Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. But before it can regain its place at the table, Myspace will have to contend with powerful competitors in social media and streaming music – as well as the site's own baggage as an Internet failure.
"Myspace didn't really do anything wrong – it just lost its focus," says Christian Parkes, the company's vice president of global marketing. "There were more attractive options that people left and went to. But I have no doubt we'll win over the naysayers. The platform's really strong."
Timberlake and investors Chris and Tim Vanderhook bought Myspace from News Corp. for $35 million in 2011 – six years after conservative mogul Rupert Murdoch's company paid $580 million for what was then considered a hot Internet company. When they took over, the new owners encountered outdated software code and a bloated staff and, Parkes says, decided to rebuild "from the ground up." Myspace drastically cut employees, then hired a new Australian design team and a Los Angeles technology crew; the redesign took nine months to put together in 2012, and the new Myspace has been available as a beta test at new.myspace.com since late last year.
Myspace's long-standing contracts with major record labels made it possible to offer a built-in music player that lets users stream songs as they scroll through pages. The new site also includes tools for artists to identify their most active followers and encourage them to network with new ones. "It's a much more exciting-looking social network than what's out there," says Syd Schwartz, a former executive at a major record label who is now chief executive of the marketing company Linchpin Digital.
But Schwartz is among many in the music business who are skeptical that Myspace can come back in a digital landscape with established players. "They've gotten very badly hurt," he says. "I'm not sure what they're going to offer that's going to compete with the likes of Spotify and Rdio and Deezer and the relaunched MOG and Daisy. Are they trying to rebrand themselves as a social network or as a music service? They're in a tight squeeze because they're in a battle on two fronts – Facebook on one and Spotify on the other."
One advantage on Myspace's side: The Timberlake factor. "Justin's involvement is pretty deep," Parkes says. "He's certainly not a micro-manager, but he has a strong point of view." Timberlake recruited singer-keyboardist Kenna to work as a creative executive at Myspace; together, they've been working their connections to bring artists out to support the relaunch. "I always had a Myspace – always updated it, always connected with my fans," says Swedish House Mafia's Steve Angello. "I don't think they'll have any problem coming back. It's built very visually compared to other social media. Sitting in front of Facebook is not the highlight of my day."