While Rupert Murdoch is concerned with his company's bid for BSkyB - among (ahem) other matters in the UK media - he might have something else on his plate: a potential bid for MySpace.
Bought as part of Intermix for $580m in 2005, MySpace was designed to provide News Corp with a vehicle to propel itself into a golden, digital age. Although one might argue that other innovations are helping the business on that journey, the acquisition of MySpace did not turn out as expected. Seen to be something which will be sold at a loss, theories abound as to why the global resources and muscle of News Corp could not make a go of it.
As the site is well in the flow of a long, slow decline, one option is to close it. Such an option was allegedly planned by Yahoo of Delicious as part of a group of sites to be closed. This group was, in a ubiquitous strategy slide, labelled "Sunset". The combination of Delicious' small-but-loyal userbase and the later confirmation that Yahoo was indeed proposing to sell the property, resulted in a number of public approaches. This gives rise to the theory that sites which are – or were – appreciated by a loyal and sizeable audience, can theoretically pass from a major media owner to a smaller, focussed organisation.
Such an option might be considered for MySpace. Adam Noakes has started a campaign called Let's Buy MySpace, which does what it suggests: aggregate pledges to take MySpace out of the hands of News Corp. These pledges are turned into shares, using a similar model to MyFootballClub. If you pledge, you have a share in MySpace – assuming that Rupert is prepared to pick up the phone.
The idea was put into action because Noakes ".. was fed up of seeing all the negative news coming out from MySpace. All the changes have been for the worse, and there is no obvious sign of a strategy, all from a site with massive registered user numbers and monthly visits... and a great history". While MySpace still has substantial user numbers and visits (albeit in decline) – and that great history – one wonders whether we have simply moved on. After all, there are thousands of websites that have gone through a swifter killing.
Noakes believes that the long shadow set by the "big three" (you don't need us to tell you who they are) still leaves a place for MySpace. One of MySpace's most well-known attributes is its strength in music, where Noakes sees the site's historic success in surfacing talent such as the Arctic Monkeys as a legacy which should continue. Given the money currently going into resuscitating the careers of pop stars and groups of the past 30 years, perhaps the role of MySpace is more important than ever, in making genuinely groundbreaking and innovative music available to a wide audience.
In the age of digital-centric publishers – and in the year that News Corp is to launch a tablet-specific news publication – what we have learned from the ownership of MySpace by a global media conglomerate is important. News Corp's ability to walk away from loss-making ventures – such as Thelondonpaper – is vital to its understanding of where profit and opportunities lie. In other words, it behaves as a startup: it needs to fail fast. MySpace is problematic, as it is in limbo: the figures may give all the signs that it should be axed, but its user volumes and advertising revenues are too great.
Noakes is very clear about what we have learned from News Corp's ownership. "Without a clear strategy, anything will ultimately fail. Simply buying MySpace as a going concern didn't work. Putting no effort into the users didn't work. I'm not saying that a media empire doesn't know how to run a website, but it would certainly need to invest time and resource into understanding users."
This is simply understanding a situation and coming up with a solution.
In order to make a realistic bid for MySpace, LBMS needs more than just cash. It needs the leadership, strategy and vision that will prevent lighting from striking twice in the same place. Noakes is adamant that what made MySpace successful in the first place, can make it successful once more – as a business, and as a business model. "A few simple ideas will see the site making good money; a 'back to basics' advertising model is needed. The users will have a big say in the way the site runs, so that will be a huge difference in terms of keeping customers happy. We are in an age where anything is possible. I admire big business and this is nothing against them; this is simply understanding a situation and coming up with a solution. I can only see projects like this becoming more common."
The model of bidding for a successful site that no longer matters to the mothership is, in theory, very attractive to all concerned. Engaged audiences could become more engaged through their direct part-ownership; the owner gets it off their portfolio, quickly and cleanly; and, with the right management, revenue opportunities are strengthened by a management team that has a direct and passionate interest in the site, both as longstanding users and as part-owners – something acknowledged by LBMS with its Executive Committee.
LBMS has raised just over £20k at the time of writing. While it has a considerable amount yet to raise, it could well prove to be a model adopted by other communities that refuse to see their favourite sites fall into a self-perpetuating decline.
Adam Noakes is Head of Strategy at 140 Digital.