Maybe BBM Music Isn’t So Silly After All

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With BBM Music, RIM has thrown their hat into the already crowded mobile music ring. The new service’s focus on leveraging your social connections to score some new tunes is a novel twist, but it begs a significant question. Why would RIM release an ostensibly limited music service when you can shell out a few extra dollars a month for unlimited access?

At first glance, BBM Music seems like a huge hassle. Unless you only ever listen to a few songs, reaching out to your BBM buddies isn’t so much a suggestion as it is a requirement. Even though RIM claims to have a catalog of several million tracks, you can only ever have 50 of them linked with your BBM Music profile.

By connecting with your BBM-using friends, you slowly bolster your music collection by gaining access to their 50 songs, and so on. In short, it requires people to actually work for their music in addition to paying $4.99/month for it.

Competitor RDIO takes a similar approach to its social elements — you can follow fellow users and see what they’ve been playing — but none of that is mandatory to enjoy the nearly 9 million tracks in Rdio’s catalog. You’re definitely paying more for the privilege though: RDIO will run users $9.99/month for unlimited mobile access.

Still, the higher monthly price also grants users full access to the catalog on their computers, as well as on iOS and Android devices. It’s certainly the easier option between the two, but to unequivocally call it the better service is missing the point.

People have been drawing comparisons between these two opposing music models, but it’s very difficult to be fair since they’re geared for completely different audiences. It seems to me that BBM Music isn’t so much a music playing app as it is a music discovery app — it allows people to leverage their social connections to grow their collection, and it does it for less money than a typical Starbucks order.

By tying the music concept into BBM, RIM is capitalizing on one of the stickiest parts of the BlackBerry experience. There’s a strong chance that these users have already built up their BBM contact list, and with BBM Music, those users can finally get more out of their friends than just stimulating conversation.

Instead of trying to release a BlackBerry-specific unlimited streaming service that would drown in a sea of similar competitors, RIM wisely targeted existing BBM users to whom the service would add the most value because of their existing contact lists. Whether or not BBM Music will survive for long is another story entirely, but RIM took their music efforts in the best direction they could given the circumstances.