Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

BlackBerry Music: $5 a Month, 50 Songs

Five dollars a month. Fifty songs you can share with your friends. But only on your BlackBerry, and their BlackBerries.

That’s the basic pitch behind BBM Music, the new subscription service Research In Motion plans to roll out soon.

As previously reported, the BlackBerry maker is in late-stage talks with the big music labels; music industry sources believe RIM is aiming for a beta launch in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom in early September. A RIM rep declined to comment.

Some other details:

  • A full-fledged rollout is planned for the first three territories later this fall.
  • RIM is negotiating global licenses with the music companies, and expects to launch in other territories in 2012; the big idea is to piggyback on the success of RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger service, which has more than 45 million users worldwide.
  • Subscribers won’t be able to export their music to PCs or other hardware, with the exception of RIM’s much-maligned PlayBook tablet.
  • Subscribers will be able to share songs with friends who are also BBM Music subscribers.

So why would anyone pay $5 a month to get 50 songs on their phone, when they can pay $10 a month and get an unlimited number of songs, that work on lots of different devices, from services like Rdio and Rhapsody?

Reasonable question! But RIM seems to be assuming that its subscribers won’t ask. Instead, it is playing up the notion that BBM Music will be about “personalizing” your phone, in the same way that ringtones supposedly did a decade ago.

Ringtones, as you’ll recall, let buyers play a few seconds of a song, and sold for a couple bucks, while full songs from Apple’s iTunes went for 99 cents. And for a few years, the music companies and the wireless carriers sold lots and lots of ringtones. (Crazy Frog!)

As I wrote yesterday, I don’t think a mini-subscription service is a terrible idea. Yes, standard subscription services offer much more bang for the buck, but they have yet to take the world by storm. And while people say they want unlimited music, they generally end up listening to a very small number of songs, over and over.

And if RIM can integrate billing through the carriers — so its users can sign up directly on their phones without having to take out a credit card — even better. This won’t save the company, but I don’t see how it hurts it.


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