I guess Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) can't take a hint.
The BlackBerry maker rolled out its social music app yesterday. We've generally had a bad feeling about BBM Music since it was initially announced three months ago.
- "Color me skeptical," Tim Beyers says. "Don't expect it to add color to RIM's otherwise bleak profit picture."
- "I'll go as far as to make a prediction: One year from today, BBM Music will be gone, dismissed as a failed experiment, while RIM's market share drops into single-digit territory," Evan Niu forecasts.
- "Social music is something that even the successful companies haven't been able to get right, so why is RIM wasting its time here?" I say. "This service is likely to last about as long as a punk song."
Well, I guess it's time to cue up "Blitzkrieg Bop."
Search and destroy
It's easy to see why Tim, Evan, and I aren't holding out a whole lot of hope for yesterday's launch of BBM Music.
The product is flawed from the start. BlackBerry jockeys can pay $5 a month for the service that gives subscribers access to 50 songs out of a category of millions of tracks in any given month. They can swap out 25 tracks during the course of the month.
It seems like a pointless value proposition, but RIM is banking on some viral magic. See, if you can sucker a BlackBerry friend into joining BBM Music, you can share your 100 combined tracks. Keep going and you can keep expanding your library. You'd better hope that your friends like good music!
There are a few fatal flaws here. The first, of course, is that social sharing of music has been a disaster even for the tech giants. Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) Ping has been a rare dud for the Cupertino darling. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) tried to differentiate its Zune from the more popular iPod with a social sharing element, and history can tell you how well that went.
Another major problem is that folks can get pretty self-conscious when it comes to sharing playlists. It's no longer about the 50 songs you want to hear. It's about the 50 songs that you want your friends to think you want to hear.
I haven't been using Spotify as often as I was before its integration with Facebook. I know I can turn the social connection off, but I just don't always feel like publicizing what I'm listening to. If I'm craving some Air Supply or Hall & Oates, the last thing I want is to open myself up to ridicule. Fair warning to my Facebook friends: I'm in a Devo and Toto mood today.
Freeloaders have a version of BBM Music that is limited to 30-second samples. In other words, as far as social music is concerned, it's sorely lacking in the music.
Because this is BlackBerry, it's also sorely lacking in the social.
Let's be frank: Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Android and Apple are the growing platforms in the consumer space. You know, the folks who are actually listening to music on their phones?
BlackBerrys typically belong to either smartphone pioneers who are wavering on platform loyalty or those cradling corporate-issued devices because old-school IT departments don't trust iOS and Android. These aren't the type of smartphone owners that load up their handsets with music. They probably aren't even donning earbuds.
It's wrong for me to generalize. I'm sure that Pandora (NYSE: P ) and Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI ) wouldn't have rolled out streaming BlackBerry apps if there was no interest in their music. However, it's just not much of a market for BlackBerry itself to roll out a proprietary platform that may anger some of its developers.
Evan thinks BBM Music will be dead in a year. I predict it may be sooner, but RIM may keep it alive just so it doesn't seem like a short-lived failure. That's what it's doing with the PlayBook now anyway, isn't it? No one's buying it, yet RIM is delaying the release of 2.0 instead of giving it a proper burial.
RIM wants to make it seem as if it's resonating with consumers by swan diving with the PlayBook and belly flopping with BBM Music. It doesn't seem to care that it forgot to fill the pool with water.
BBM Music is either a case of a sad company that doesn't realize its place in the scheme of things or a brilliant facade to buy itself some time to smoke out a gullible suitor. It would be cool if it was the latter, but with RIM's luck it's probably the former.