With the launch of its music service for BlackBerrys, Thumbplay is the latest company hoping that anytime-anywhere access will make consumers pay a monthly fee to hear a massive library of music. Given its large installed base and understanding of mobile behavior, don’t count Thumbplay out.

The music subscription market may be unproven, but it sure has seen a lot of action over the past few months. And today, with the launch of its mobile app on BlackBerry devices today, Thumbplay became the latest company hoping that anytime-anywhere access to on-demand music will make consumers pay a flat fee for an all-you-can-eat service — in this case, $9.99 a month.

As it enters public beta, Thumbplay’s music subscription service becomes the first to launch simultaneously on desktops and smartphones. The company’s deep mobile experience is one key differentiator that sets it apart from incumbents such as Rhapsody and Napster as well as upstarts MOG and Spotify, the latter of which hasn’t launched in the U.S. yet.

CEO Evan Schwartz told me half of Thumbplay’s installed base is now using smartphones, and the company already counts hundreds of thousands of customers for its existing mobile entertainment subscription service, which offers ringtones, wallpapers and other goodies. Online radio provider Pandora, for one, has shown how mobile phones can drive user adoption of a music service, and Thumbplay may have some advantages as a result of its presence on smartphones.

As an iPhone user, I wasn’t able to test the  mobile app, but I did get to survey the desktop version (screenshot below), an Adobe AIR-based client that was up and running quickly after a brief installation. Thumbplay’s library, said to comprise 8 million songs from all four major labels and numerous indies, showed some gaps (no Arcade Fire?), but I found that the songs loaded quickly and played without interruption. If it can replicate that experience on mobile devices — and early reports suggest that the BlackBerry app may still be buggy — Thumbplay will have a real contender, given that Rhapsody ($14.99) and Spotify (€9.99 in Europe, or $13.56) are charging more for the anywhere-anytime experience. Thumbplay also offers smart playlisting built on the Echo Nest’s music brain, delivers instant syncing between desktop and phone, provides offline caching on mobile devices — good for airplanes and train tunnels — and allows users to import iTunes playlists.

Schwartz said Thumbplay reached profitability around the middle of last year, and has reportedly raised $61 million from venture investors. The company’s expansion to include a full-track music service is in line with forecasts suggesting that the market for ringtones has already peaked, and that consumers will soon expect a more complete music experience from their mobile phones. Spotify’s imminent U.S. launch will probably still make the biggest splash, but given its large installed base and understanding of mobile behavior, don’t count Thumbplay out.

By Paul Bonanos

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  1. [...] Thumbplay's Mobile Music Service Goes Live – GigaOM [...]

  2. Im not sure how all these services will get traction. Disappointed in the mobile launch. This is the best part, and they should have launched when this was ready. Everything else about it is the same.

    my review:

  3. Thumbplay contacted me right away after this post and comment, and got my Blackberry 9760 working with the service.
    No issues, install was fine, service is working nicely! Will post review soon!

  4. [...] another company that will offer ubiquitous on-demand access to a large library of songs, following Thumbplay’s launch earlier this month and Rhapsody’s last year -– and representing a further erosion of [...]

  5. [...] such as IODA and the Orchard. But why is MOG missing the first two Tom Petty albums, while Thumbplay has them all? Why does Spotify – at least the preview version I’m testing here in the U.S. – [...]

  6. I’m still kind of surprised by Thumbplay. First service with a client that runs on Mac, and the service itself is pretty good. Seems like they snuck out there with all the attention Mog and Spotify are getting. And all the new entrants make me wonder why Rhapsody continues to languish.

  7. What format are songs? he-aac? mp3??

  8. [...] is now preparing its mobile launch, will have the same two-tiered price system, while Rhapsody and Thumbplay both offer desktop-plus-mobile plans for $10; European fave Spotify offers free ad-supported [...]

  9. [...] service in December 2009, MOG’s entry into the mobile arena follows the arrivals of Rdio and Thumbplay, which offer similar desktop-plus-mobile plans that cost about $10 monthly. (Both Rdio and MOG also [...]

  10. [...] service for Android and iPhone last month, as well as legacy service Rhapsody and mobile-heavy Thumbplay. (If it ever launches in the U.S., the now-comically-delayed Spotify is surely losing potential [...]


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