Research In Motion (RIM) today made official the rumored "BBM Music" service, which is meant to enable "social and viral music discovery by allowing users to build an evolving, community-based music library that is shared amongst their BBM Music friends."
In short, BlackBerry users will pay RIM $5 a month, select 50 songs from RIM's cloud-based music catalogue, and then stream and share those tunes with their BlackBerry-Messenger-using friends.
The sharing means that BBM Music users gain access to every individual BBM friends' 50 songs. Basically, though you only get to select 50 songs a month for yourself, in reality, you have access to and can listen to many more tunes, since every one of your BBM-Music-using friends adds all of their selections to your shared library. You can also "swap out" 25 of your specific 50 songs, once a month.
BBM Music is currently available in beta-form, and only a select few have access to the service at this point. But RIM says it will become widely available "later this year."
Sounds interesting enough, right? Unfortunately, BBM Music is fundamentally flawed, and I'm already questioning its long-term viability. Here are a few reasons why.
BBM Music Focus is on Sharing
BBM Music is really a music sharing service, and not a traditional online music retailer like Apple's iTunes or Amazon MP3. And I'm not really sure consumers are willing to pay for the privilege of sharing digital tunes, even if the cost is only $5 per month, since plenty of other free methods for song-sharing and music discovery already exist.
For example, many of my online friends often share information on who or what they're listening to via social networks like Twitter or Facebook--and even BBM, thanks to a "Show What I'm Listening To" feature within RIM's mobile IM app. If I'm interested in something one of my connections is listening to, I'll pop on over to Amazon, have a quick listen of the song preview and buy it if I like what I hear. If the song isn't brand new, I'll often check YouTube or other music sites to see if the entire track is available for free streaming before I buy. And this works fine for me.
Also, I feel that popular music today mostly sucks. And I'm guessing that despite RIM's partnership with four leading music companies--Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and EMI--and the "millions of available songs," many of my favorite, obscure tunes from lesser-known bands won't be available. (And I already own those tunes anyway, but more on that in the next section.)
You're Only "Renting" Songs on BBM Music
BBM music users won't really purchase music via the service, since the songs are all stored on the BBM Music servers; you'll only "rent" them for a month or so--though RIM says you can download some tracks for offline listening each month. If you want to physically own a track or an album, even if you discovered it on BBM Music, on your own or through a shared library, you'll probably still hit up iTunes or Amazon or whatever digital music shop you've used in the past for your purchase.
So in a way, BBM Music users could end up "paying twice," for songs, after shelling out the $5-a-month fee for BBM Music and then the dollar or so it takes to purchase a song of interest. You could look at the $5 BBM Music fee as the cost of new-music discovery, but again, I don't really think your average BlackBerry user is willing to pay for that particular service.
Then there's the fact that you probably already own at least a few of your favorite songs, and since they're your favorites, you'll want to include them in your monthly allotment of 50 songs, so your friends can see them. In doing so, however, you actually reduce the number of "new" or unfamiliar songs you can add to your library, and in turn, you reduce the value of BBM Music overall.
BBM Music is Available Only to BlackBerry Users
You can only use BBM Music with other BlackBerry users, and it's unlikely that all or even the majority of your friends use BlackBerry smartphones, so the service is really only available to a small subset of your friends and other connections. In other words, you won't be able to use BBM Music with any of your iPhone- or Android-toting friends. Past rumors suggest RIM may bring BBM to other platforms, but until that happens, BBM Music is restricted to BlackBerry users. And I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for BBM to hit other mobile platforms.
BBM Music Could Reduce Overall Value of BBM
To get the most out of BBM Music, you'd want to have a lengthy list of BBM contacts, since each of those contacts could potentially add as many as 50 new songs to your shared BBM Music library. But that goes against everything that makes BBM valuable to me.
I purposefully don't have too many BBM contacts, because the value in BBM, for me, is that it provides my closest friends and colleagues with a way to contact me that's separate from e-mail, separate from IM, and separate from SMS text. And my BBM contacts know that if they message me, they'll get a speedy response.
I literally receive hundreds of e-mail, IM and text messages every day, and as such I don't always rush to read every new message that arrives. But when I see that BBM new-message indicator, I immediately check it, because I know that I'm connected to people who will only message me if it's important. (Read my recent "BlackBerry Messenger Best Practices" for more details)
Adding tons of random BBM contacts simply so I'd have access to their BBM Music libraries would drastically reduce the overall value of BBM to me.
I'll end this post by stressing that I'm really not trying to condemn BBM Music before I even get to test the service. I'd love for BBM Music to succeed, and I'm anxious to get my hands on it. But until then, I remain very skeptical.
Find more official details on BBM Music on RIM's website.