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Stealing MySpace: The Battle to Control the Most Popular Website in America

Stealing MySpace: The Battle to Control the Most Popular Website in America

by Julia Angwin

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A few years ago, MySpace.com was just an idea kicking around a Southern California spam mill. Scroll down to the present day and MySpace is one of the most visited Internet destinations in America, displaying more than 40 billion webpage views per month and generating nearly $1 billion annually for Rupert Murdoch’s online empire. Even by the standards of the


A few years ago, MySpace.com was just an idea kicking around a Southern California spam mill. Scroll down to the present day and MySpace is one of the most visited Internet destinations in America, displaying more than 40 billion webpage views per month and generating nearly $1 billion annually for Rupert Murdoch’s online empire. Even by the standards of the Internet age, the MySpace saga is an astounding growth story, which climaxed with the site’s acquisition by Murdoch’s News Corporation in 2005 for a sum approaching one billion dollars. But more than that, it may be the defining drama of the digital era.

In Stealing MySpace, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Julia Angwin chronicles the rise of this Internet powerhouse. With an unerring eye, Angwin details how MySpace took the Internet by storm by grabbing the best ideas from around the Web, encouraging pinup stars such as Tila Tequila to make their home on its pages and giving everyone freedom to experiment with online identities–including using somebody else’s identity.

Stealing MySpace introduces us to the site’s founders, Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson, who dabbled in computer hacking, online pornography, spam, and spyware before starting MySpace. Although their street savvy, doggedness, and clubbing skills far eclipsed their tech prowess, they stumbled their way to success and soon found themselves at ground zero of a high-stakes war that pitted Rupert Murdoch against his frequent nemesis, the combative Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone. Angwin sheds light on the dizzying backroom deals that allowed Murdoch to snatch MySpace from Viacom’s grasp even as the MySpace founders remained in the dark about their own fate. Then she takes us inside the Murdoch empire as DeWolfe and Anderson lobby furiously to regain control of their creation.

Venturing beyond the business aspects of the story, Angwin also explores the Internet culture, a voyeuristic world in which MySpace must stay one step ahead of amateur pornographers, sexual predators, and “spoofers” who set up fake profiles (Rupert Murdoch himself tolerates dozens of phony “Ruperts” on the site) and cope with the general excesses and sometimes illegal acts of a community of account holders equal in number to the population of Japan.

In Stealing MySpace, Julia Angwin dishes on the epic real-world battle for control of a virtual empire. In a savvy, smart, fast-paced narrative reminiscent of Bryan Burrough and John Helyar’s Barbarians at the Gate and Michael Lewis’s The New New Thing, Stealing MySpace tells is the whole gripping story behind a breakout cultural phenomenon.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
There's at least one story that has never been told on the no-holds-barred social networking Web site MySpace. That story is the chaotic, action-packed history of MySpace itself. Now Julia Angwin…has done prodigious digging into the shady business practices, trailer-park aesthetics, lucky accidents and borderline personality types that have allowed MySpace to tap into the American psyche. Her account is necessarily convoluted. But like the site itself, Ms. Angwin's book…is accessible to anyone, except during its most intensive dissections of deal-making. Overall, you needn't know a portal from a platform to follow this sprawling, rollicking Internet history.
—The New York Times
Scott Rosenberg
As a chronicle of corporate maneuvering, Stealing MySpace is meticulous and engaging…[it] also does a great job of unearthing MySpace's roots in the Web's shadier precincts.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Angwin, an award-winning journalist for the Wall Street Journal, recounts the history of MySpace.com in this well-written, entertaining and drama-filled chronicle. From its founding by Chris DeWolfe to its surprising purchase for nearly $600 million by Rupert Murdoch and NewsCorp., Angwin takes the reader through the company's tumultuous journey to the top. Readers will learn how Eliot Spitzer's spyware lawsuit nearly devastated the company and how Richard Blumenthal's investigation into the site's lack of protection of minors resulted in a blindsiding public assault. An array of personalities populate the book, including Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone, Bill O'Reilly and Tila Tequila, who was one of the earliest to use her popularity on the site to generate a successful business. Angwin also describes the massive defection of MySpace users to Facebook and leaves the reader to wrestle with the issue of digital identity. Attesting to the depth of her research, Angwin also includes a lengthy notes section. This engrossing look at how MySpace became a media powerhouse will find a solid audience of business history, technology and entrepreneurship readers. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

MySpace, originally created as a data storage site, quickly transformed itself into one of the largest social-networking services worldwide, and it has revolutionized electronic marketing. Angwin, an award-winning reporter for the Wall Street Journal, relays its history as it changed hands among different businesspeople and companies, eventually becoming the prize digital asset of Rupert Murdoch, the well-known CEO of News Corporation. The site currently has many competitors, the biggest of which is Facebook; market share is determined by individuals' decisions to join one of these services, decisions largely based on whether family members and friends are already members. Angwin explains how high-profile members exert power by threatening to leave if they are not given maximum control of their online experiences. She skillfully shows the combination of business strategies used by MySpace and Facebook, including copying each other's best features, to capture market share and advertising revenue. The first and only business history thus far of MySpace, this outstanding title is highly recommended for all public library and academic collections.
—Caroline Geck

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Stealing MySpace

Richard Rosenblatt’s heart was pounding with nervous anticipation as he climbed a private staircase on the Fox Studios lot in Los Angeles. It was the warm afternoon of July 12, 2005. On the Fox lot, the low buildings of the Fox TV and movie soundstages and offices were dwarfed by the high-rise jungle known as Century City. With his deep tan, athletic figure, and casual attire, Rosenblatt looked like he might be on the lot for an audition. But Rosenblatt was there to sell News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch on his version of the digital future.

Rosenblatt had arrived early for his meeting. Murdoch’s office was in a modern glass-and-steel office building that, to many visitors, looked woefully out of place next to the graceful 1930s building that housed the historic 20th Century Fox movie production offices. As he waited in the ground-floor cafeteria, with sunlight streaming in through the sliding glass doors, Rosenblatt tapped out an e-mail on his BlackBerry to a friend: “At murdochs’ . . . going in soon. Friggen nervous.”

Finally an aide came to usher him up the back stairs that led from the cafeteria to Murdoch’s office on the fifth floor. Ross Levinsohn, Murdoch’s genial head of Internet strategy, was waiting for Rosenblatt outside Murdoch’s office. Levinsohn put his hand on Rosenblatt’s arm. “If you want to sell your company to us, now is the time to do it,” Levinsohn said.

As soon as Rosenblatt stepped into Murdoch’s spacious neutral-toned office suite, he wondered whether he should have worn a suit after all. Against the advice of his colleagues, Rosenblatt had decided to wear his usual business uniform of cargo pants, Vans sneakers, and a light blue short-sleeve button-down shirt. Murdoch, with his receding gray hair and rimless glasses, was waiting in a crisp suit.

Rosenblatt took a seat offered to him on the beige leather couch, introduced himself, and, in his high-pitched voice, launched into a ten-minute recital of all the reasons why Murdoch should buy his Internet company, Intermix Media.

On its own, Intermix was not much of a prize. It owned a bunch of websites offering games like bingo and animated fart jokes that users could e-mail to one another. It was barely profitable. It had been sued by New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer for distributing spyware inside screen savers, screen cursors, and games.

But Intermix also owned a majority stake in a fast-growing website—MySpace.com—which had attracted an impressive 17.7 million visitors the prior month. A consummate salesman, Rosenblatt focused his comments on the potential of adding MySpace’s broad audience to complement Rupert Murdoch’s already enviable empire of top-flight media companies.

“Mr. Murdoch, MySpace is the perfect media company,” Rosenblatt said. “Unlike traditional media companies, MySpace generates free content, through its users; generates free traffic, by its users inviting their friends; and all you have to do is sell the ads!”

Gesturing at the four clocks on the wall showing the time in Los Angeles, London, Sydney, and Hong Kong, Rosenblatt said, “You have built the most incredible global media company. You have dominated in every area of media, from newspapers to television to film. But on the Internet, you are irrelevant.

“This deal will not only make you relevant, it will immediately make you as big a player as AOL or Yahoo online,” Rosenblatt said. “If you do this deal, I predict you will be on the cover of Wired magazine twelve months from now.”

Murdoch said softly in his thick Australian accent, “I heard you’ve been asking for twelve dollars a share. That’s a significant premium.” Intermix’s stock was trading that day at $9.96 a share.

“Rich, you’ve got a reputation for selling when companies are at full value,” Murdoch chided gently.

Rosenblatt took a deep breath but didn’t back down. After all, he knew that Murdoch’s archrival, Viacom, was interested in buying Intermix as well.

“With all due respect, the company is worth it,” he told Murdoch. “The price is twelve dollars a share.”

Murdoch stood up and said, “You got it. Can we get it done by Sunday?”

“I never go back on my word,” Rosenblatt said, shaking Murdoch’s hand. “Subject to my public company duties, I’ll deliver you the company by Sunday.” He was quickly ushered out of the room.

Rosenblatt was dazed; he couldn’t believe that Murdoch had agreed to spend nearly $600 million in a twenty-minute meeting.

There was only one catch: MySpace didn’t know it was about to be sold.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Julia Angwin is an award-winning journalist at The Wall Street Journal, where she writes about the convergence of technology and media.

From the Hardcover edition.

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