Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Thumbplay Moves From Ringtones to Mobile Music, Hires Apple Exec

You might think the long line of failed digital music companies would dissuade people from launching new ones. But you’d be wrong!

Last week’s example: The venture capitalists who plowed another $10 million into MOG, an all-you-can eat Web-based music subscription service.

This week’s example: Thumbplay, which is launching an all-you-can eat mobile music subscription service on Thursday. For good measure, the company is also announcing a big hire this week–it is bringing on Pablo Calamera, an Apple (AAPL) engineer who has been working on that company’s MobileMe service, as CTO.

New York-based Thumbplay used to be known as a big player in the ringtone business, but ringtones were last decade’s Pet Rock, so it needs something new. Music subscriptions certainly aren’t novel, but no one has really been successful with them so far, so this would indeed be a novelty.

Thumbplay’s pitch sounds like those of a lot of its peers. For $10 a month, you can listen to as much music as you want, but you don’t actually own any of the tunes. If you want, you can buy individual songs at the same price points (69 cents to $1.29) used by iTunes. The company says it has licensing deals with all four big labels and a catalog of eight million tracks.

Thumbplay is pitching this primarily as a mobile streaming service, but it will also have a desktop app. The service allows mobile users to cache some of their collection, which means you don’t have to have cell service to hear your tunes. Which means the service passes the subway/airplane/“OMG I hate my wireless company” test.

The main difference between Thumbplay and everyone else is that it’s kicking off its launch by targeting Research in Motion’s (RIMM) BlackBerry users, who have pretty much been ignored by music services to date. Which is not a terrible strategy, really.

But the company also says it will roll out apps for the iPhone and Google’s (GOOG) Android platform later this year and will start testing them in private beta this month.

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