Contrary to what it might appear the last few weeks with the Blackberry mentions, I’m not really out to point out their issues as much as they happen to be in the line of fire on much bigger things. Cloud computing has been all the rage the last few years. Partly, it’s because of Moore’s law of computing power increases, and thus the diminishing cost. Partly, it’s because of mobile and that compact devices cannot store on-board as much as one might want to access thus driving alternate solutions. And, partly because tech culture loves buzzwords and being in the cloud carries that kind of buzzworthy cache.
The problem with digital music since the dawn of time has always been three-fold. First: technology moves much faster than either the consumer adoption or the content provider’s ability to work out distribution. Second: the number of competitors is large in any single technology platform not to mention the large number of competing platforms. Finally: there’s an inherent pricing problem always at stake.
Depending on how one seeks to define “music in the cloud” there’s a lot of room for segmenting the offerings. For example, several years ago LaLa and BlueTunes were offering cloud storage solutions allowing user to upload their existing catalog to their hosting services to be accessed anywhere. BlueTunes never really seemed to gain traction and LaLa expanded the offering to allow the purchasing of streams in addition to the uploads generated enough noise to eventually be bought by Apple.
In the meantime, others services such as Rhapsody, Napster and Zune along with upstarts like Playme, Thumbplay and others were combining stream and download packages to encourage consumption, hoping the anywhere streaming would drive downloads. All the while any number of streaming services were promising all kinds of cloud based catalogs ranging from Pandora’s radio option to Slacker’s on-demand play-listing. Everyone wanted to get in on the music distribution angle, from the carriers like Verizon’s
Vcast to the handset manufacturers like Nokia’s Ovi store. Add in innovative consumers testing everything from Amazon AWS to Dropbox to store files and access music from and the options become immense. And this only scratches the surface when now looking at the possibilities that exist in the expanding marketplace, including offerings earlier this year by Apple and Google with uploading services that extend listening with add-on streaming and social components as well as Spotify’s long awaited North American debut.
Enter Blackberry into an already crowded and highly undifferentiated marketplace. This isn’t the first time they were late to the party (app stores immediately comes to mind) and working from behind in order to launch a product.
Establishing themselves will not be an easy task. The primary reason why lies not in the shear amount of competition they stand to face, but rather in their own eroding market share and diminished consumer confidence. Even three years ago if Blackberry had entered it would have been difficult, but slipping down to under 20% of the OS share according to ComScore means success of the music offering is directly related to the platform’s user acceptance. Continued deterioration of the OS will mean an increasingly smaller base of consumers to work with and with music services being a dime-a-dozen there’s little chance that the music service will drive platform growth itself. Since everything is tied to Blackberry Messenger it is imperative that BBM be successful for Music to follow suit.
The service touts social and viral discovery tools as well as content from across all four majors and several high level indies, which is on-par with most of its competitors.
However, the offering seems a little convoluted and overly restrictive in that users build personal music profiles featuring 50 of their favorite songs, with the flexibility to swap out as many as 25 songs each month. Then they invite fellow BB friends to join their profile in order to share songs. So, adding one friend doubles your potential listening catalog to up to 100 songs. The more friends you have, potentially the more song choices, but the only way to get more song choices is to really 1) have a lot of friends who 2) listening to similar music you do and 3) are not picking the same songs you already have.
The idea is probably to encourage users to broaden their BB friend base (which helps BB in other ways) and encourage social interaction between users to increase adoption and maintain long term usage, but the reality is 50 songs a month is exceedingly restrictive and the dependency of your friends lists contributing to your listening probably isn’t as intuitive in building social acceptance or virility as RIM might be anticipating. Much like Spotify and Facebook found out when they paired their services, many times users have deep, dark listening secrets they don’t want to share with their friends that BBM Music could expose, as well as the fact that some, if not many, of those songs aren’t ones you as the friend are even interested in listening too. Plus there’s always that possibility of high duplication of specific tracks that doesn’t effectively net-double your potential listening just by joining on with a friend.
This isn’t to say that BBM Music is all bad. Blackberry needed to do something to re-establish itself in consumer’s minds and offering a Music service is one way they can get people talking again about the platform and handsets in a positive light. Lately BB’s been overshadowed by bigger releases by other handset manufactures and continually high adoption numbers in iOS and Android as those move even further beyond handsets to the tablet world. With Nokia and others poised to enter the market with Microsoft Win7 devices it will only continue to put pressure on BB to step up its game, because any marketshare those pick up probably isn’t coming greatly from Android and Apple to being with.