Linkfire buys SmartURL in smart-links consolidation move


Smart-links and music marketing firm Linkfire went public in June with a listing in Stockholm. Now it’s making a bold expansion move by acquiring one of its main rivals, SmartURL.

The latter is the US firm, based in Boston, which has been working with artists and other clients since 2011.

“They started years before us, they’ve kind of pioneered this industry,” Linkfire CEO Lars Ettrup told Music Ally, in an interview for our Music Ally Focus podcast which has been released today.

“They started this smart linking kind of space… Really what we’re looking for here is someone that is interested in building a bigger play to service labels and artists at a much greater scale.”

Buying SmartURL gives Linkfire a strong foothold in the US market, where the former company’s clients range from Britney Spears and H.E.R. to Toto.

“Their links have been indexed across social media, across search and so on for over 15 years, so there’s a lot of value in us taking over and administrating their links and that traffic as well,” said Ettrup.

“But really what we’re tapping into is a company that has a lot of industry acknowledgment; that has a strong network within the DSP space first of all; but also within the type of partnerships that we want to make as well… We want to create more value with artists and labels, but also with the DSPs.”

It’s a big deal in the context of the smart-links market, where Ettrup sees a small number of companies operating at the scale of servicing major labels, and then a greater number of smaller firms working at the artist level.

“What we’re trying to do is strengthen our position in servicing the bigger distributors, the bigger independents, the major labels as well,” he said.

“And in the long tail, we’re basically then partnering up with all the smaller services and platforms, simply because it is a very red ocean [a market with a lot of competitors]. There’s a lot of players, there’s a lot of artists, a lot of creators there, and we don’t believe that there is a single winner. There is not a winner to take that entire market.”

As a public company, Linkfire now publishes regular updates on how its business is growing within that ocean.

Its most recent report revealed that in the first half of 2021, Linkfire’s revenues grew by 44% to DKK 15.1m (around $2.4m) as the company’s platform drove 767m ‘consumer connections’ through its links – an increase of 12% year-on-year.

lars ettrup

In the podcast, Ettrup talked about the wider context of how smart-links platforms are evolving, and also how the needs of the artists and labels that they serve are changing.

“The artist’s website as it is today, or as it has been for the past 10, 20 years, it’s changing a lot. It’s evolving. Now we have thee single websites, or single-purpose websites, whether it’s Linkfire or Linktree or any of the others. There’s a reason why these are existing, why they’re interesting and why they’re being used,” he said.

“What is really happening is that artists have their content and their products across so many different services and platforms. They have social media profiles across so many different platforms. And it’s very difficult to have one link to rule them all, one website to rule them all, let alone update it all.”

“I think what we’re seeing is an evolution of the traditional artist website. We’re also seeing an evolution of this kind of ‘the next MySpace’,” he continued.

“If you take a company like Linktree, which are really trying to build the ‘business card 3.0’ kind of thing, consolidating everything that you need to know, we try to do that as well within the music space, but really we will partner with a company like Linktree and then help power the music side of things.”

That makes Linkfire increasingly a provided of back-end infrastructure – even for rivals – as well as a front-end experience for fans.

“There’s no doubt that we would like to be the only front end in the world. But I think that is very utopian to think that we could be the only front end in the world. We’d much rather be the front end, yes of course, but also the infrastructure behind it.”

Linkfire is not the only company making moves in this space. In August, Linktree bought music links startup Songlink/Odesli, with plans to integrate it into its recently-launched ‘Music Link’ feature.

Ticketing firm Eventbrite acquired ToneDen in November 2020, shortly after the latter launched a ‘StreamLinks’ feature for livestreaming events, while distributor Believe recently built its own ‘Backstage Links’ tool using technology from its 2020 acquisition of startup Soundsgood. It truly is a red ocean.

Ettrup sees plenty of opportunity ahead, driven by the new ways that music is being shared and consumed digitally.

“Music is becoming more and more ubiquitous. We have the more lean-back type of music experiences where you’re in a streaming service. And then there is the more interactive music experiences, whether or not that happens in a game, or on TikTok, and so on,” he said.

“What we would like to do is basically: wherever fans or consumers discover a piece of music, whether it’s passively leaning back or whether it’s part of social media, we would like to be there to help the consumer-fan go straight into the point of consumption and transaction.”

“We see that as a growingly complex problem. First of all, our digital attention span is like now, less than six seconds I think! Because then we’re on to the next thing. And we operate across so many different apps and platforms as well,” he continued.

“So how can you create a unified experience that works pretty much wherever you are, that is super fast, and can give you value within the attention span that you have? It becomes a little bit existentialistic now, but that’s essentially why we like links. It’s not that we like links, but we like lightweight components that can exist in other people’s environments, because that’s where people hang out.”

Written by: Stuart Dredge