Facebook music service in works


DENVER -- Facebook is reaching out to the major labels and scheduling meetings to discuss the potential implementation of a music acquisition service with the popular social networking site, Billboard.biz has learned.

Sources at multiple major labels say discussions and meetings regarding the potential service are taking place this week. The sources said they expect something similar to the music service MySpace reportedly is working on, though details of Facebook's proposal remain unclear at this point.

The MySpace service is said to involve free ad-supported on-demand streaming, much like Last.fm and Imeem, but with a paid, DRM-free a la carte download option as well. There's also the possibility of a subscription element, but nothing has been finalized.

This is hardly the first time Facebook has been attached to a music service rumor. For the last year, blogs and Internet news outlets have predicted the imminent launch of a music play -- with one expected as early as May 21 of last year -- only for the deadline to pass with no result.

Billboard.biz's sources have not attached any timeline to the Facebook effort, and the news is just the latest music-related move tied to the social network. At the end of February, the company launched its Facebook Music page, which looks much like MySpace's artist pages. The section allows artists to create profiles, stream music and add fans as friends. It also includes links to buy songs via iTunes.

Facebook's 66 million-strong members and open development platform -- which allows virtually anybody to create an application (or widget) that pulls data from user profiles to use with it -- have attracted more than 16,000 developers to the network. Just under 1,000 are music specific, including iLike, Imeem, Last.fm, Pandora, Qloud and RealNetwork's Rhapsody.

Facebook will have to be careful how it positions its own music service against these others, as well as determine how to integrate third-party music apps with whatever it comes up with.

Additionally, Facebook will have to compete against MySpace, still the 800-pound gorilla in the social networking space. MySpace controls the most members at more than 110 million, the most traffic with 109 million unique visits a month, and has the greatest number of artists participating at more than 3 million bands.

Having both MySpace and Facebook involved in digital music distribution is only a good thing for the music industry, according to Forrester Research Analyst James McQuivey. In a recent report titled "The End of the Music Industry As We Know It," McQuivey pointed to social networking as the likely primary way consumers will acquire digital downloads in the near future.

"The logical conclusion of setting music free of DRM is that every profile page on MySpace or Facebook immediately becomes a music store where friends sell friends their favorite tracks," he wrote in the report.

Facebook representatives have not returned calls for comment.