Wired – In Bloom: Spotify rival promises streaming Nirvana
Bloom fm might be about to crack the streaming music sector, a market previously dominated by Spotify… I investigate for Wired UK:
“We were talking names around the table and we misheard someone who said ‘balloon’,” says Tum Nguyen, the co-founder and leading software engineer of music industry hot topic Bloom fm. “Of course he was joking,” adds Nguyen quickly, “but as soon we all heard ‘bloom’ we said that’s fantastic because even before we came up with a name my design brief to the team was: I want it to feel like I’m running around a field of flowers and picking up music”.
It is an amusing anecdote, but the haphazard way the music streaming service fell upon its name is the exception to the rule of an otherwise meticulously planned second coming. The reason is Nguyen and fellow Bloom fm co-founder Oleg Fomenko have been here before. The duo were behind mflow, a short-lived music download service which rewarded users with discounts for recommending artists, albums and tracks. It was first desktop- then browser-based, but closed in January 2012 with a mysterious message on the homepage: “Over the past few months we’ve been working on a top-secret new project… we can’t share this grown-up mflow with you until we’re confident it’s better than anything you’ve used before.” Early signs suggest it might be.
What Nguyen and Fomenko learnt was to change everything. The standard business model of desktop first, a premium for access on mobile, restricted streaming and a focus on self discovery was inverted. Bloom fm launched last month solely on iOS, it offers unrestricted streaming and focuses on automated discovery. If you login to Bloom fm with Facebook it aggregates what you list as your favourite bands and starts playing with a single tap on the homepage.
“It had to be mobile first,” Nguyen tells Wired.co.uk. “Soon everyone is going to be doing most of their computing through their phones. It became a principle of how we approached everything [and] because we focused on mobile first we were able to simplify the design a lot. We didn’t allow ourselves to get carried away adding a million context menus and a million options, but we managed to design an app that is fully functional without being in your face and not knowing which button to press.”
We are back to the name again. The happy accident of hearing “bloom” instead of “balloon” inspired a unique structure for navigation of the service akin to a sunflower with the genre or artist in the centre and the surrounding petals offering sub-genres or similar artists. Tap a petal and it is brought to the centre with a new array of surrounding petals, tap the centre and you begin playback. It is simple, organic and importantly it is fun to use. In fact it feels almost childishly innocent as you both discover artists and create bespoke radio stations in the same playful way. Yet this hides a hard and potentially revolutionary heart.
“We found only 12 percent [of people] have tried streaming on their mobile in the UK,” Fomenko tells Wired.co.uk. “We thought it was mainstream, but when the penetration of smartphones is approaching 80 percent you realise there is an unbelievable number of people out there who have not been reached for a variety of reasons. We believe those reasons are beauty, ease, not confronting people with a search bar when they enter the app and,” he pauses “…price.”
While beauty and ease will undoubtedly attract admirers, the harsh reality in a world long used to free illegal downloads and in the midst of an unrelenting global economic downturn is new players require compelling prices. £5 per month for desktop and £10 per month for desktop and mobile access has become a predictable norm, but Bloom fm breaks from this with a system it dubs “borrow, enjoy, return”. Unlimited, genre and artist based radio stations are free, but to “borrow” music (aka download it for offline access) prices start at £1 per month for 20 tracks that can be swapped at any time. £5 per month increases this limit to 200 tracks, £10 gives unlimited borrows plus full on-demand streaming of artists and albums.
“I chose Bloom as my digital service to watch in 2013 and the real unique thing is the £1 per month pricing tier,” says Paul Smernicki, director of digital at Universal Music UK. “There’s a massive underserved market of people who aren’t quite interested enough in music, people who are sitting on the fence about whether to use a licensed or unlicensed service and people who are considering moving away from physical purchases and a pound is cheap enough to tempt them all… The only way you can really experience the best of Spotify is a £10 subscription, that isn’t the case here.”
Fomenko takes this further saying in 2008 the average spend per person per year in the music industry was £60 and that figure has been falling ever since. “It would be closer to £50 now,” he argues “and we are looking at a migration onto mobile where the lowest price point is £120 per year. There is a lion’s share of users out there who will never spend that level of money so we need to start introducing tiered subscriptions that cater to different categories that will actually engage all those people who are bringing the average down.”
Nguyen confirms when Bloom fm launches on other platforms, including a web-based player for computers later in the year, prices will not increase for these additional points of access. “We believe we can carry on the current subscription model, the simplicity is paramount so we don’t want to complicate it.” He adds “It was vital to create a £1 entry point that is actually useful, when we pitched to labels that was the tier we gave their executives to try. People can afford it and as their music needs increase there is a natural progression.”
There is room for natural progression for Bloom fm too…
This is a sample, to read about the challenges still facing bloom and where executives believe the market is heading click the link to review the full feature on Wired UK
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