While many new music subscription services continue their struggle to make a dent in the U.S. digital music market, the Muve mobile music service offered by Cricket Communications is seeing phenomenal growth, according to multiple record label sources.
"They're killing it," one such source told Billboard.biz, speaking on background.
Muve launched in early January in a handful of markets, and by early May expanded to the mobile operator's entire U.S. footprint. The company last month revealed that it had signed up 50,000 subscribers to the service, but labels sources tell Billboard that the company could cross the 100,000 user threshold as early as this month.
A representative at Cricket declined to comment on its subscriber numbers beyond the 50,000 announced last month.
Now, 100,000 subscribers is hardly an industry-changing event. But should it reach that milestone, Cricket's Muve service in less than six months would have signed up more music subscribers than either MOG or Rdio -- combined -- have in more than twice that timeframe, according to figures shared with Billboard. And that's a notable achievement.
"That would be significant, especially when you consider it's one medium-sized carrier," another label source said. "It demonstrates the appeal of these kinds of plans."
What's more, label sources tell us that as much as half of Cricket's Muve customers are new signups, as opposed to existing customers upgrading. So the service is functioning not only as a customer retention tool, but also as a means of expanding its user base.
Cricket's Muve service is a rather unique music subscription plan. It's an unlimited music subscription service, the cost of which is built into a monthly wireless phone plan. But it's not an add-on option. The Muve plan is all-inclusive-bundling unlimited voice, texting, web browsing and music downloads on a specific phone designed just for the service, all for a flat fee of $55 a month. (See Billboard's initial coverage for more details.)
It's also limited just to the phone. There's no option to obtain any music downloaded from the Muve service on a computer, or transfer music off the phone to any other device. This is something that early reviewers sharply criticized. The Los Angeles Times compared it to Nokia's unsuccessful Comes With Music service. Perhaps the most damning review came from Digital Music News' Paul Resnikoff, who branded it a "total fail."
"Sounds like a great deal! Let's pile on some more BS, shall we?" he wrote, attacking it as a "restricted experience."
What these detractors failed to notice was the unique nature of Cricket's user base. Cricket is a prepaid mobile operator, meaning its users pay month-to-month instead of on contracts. According to data provided by the company, half of them have no personal computer. Another 70% don't even have a landline phone or a credit card, so they pay each month at various Cricket locations in cash. And they're music fiends. Cricket customers rank second only to Verizon in ringback tone sales, despite the fact that Cricket has 5 million customers to Verizon's 93 million.
The question is, can this success be replicated at all, given this unique user base? Label sources speaking to Billboard.biz say yes, pointing to the success of similar bundled services overseas, such as the integration of the Deezer service with mobile operator Orange in France and Spotify with Telia in Sweden.
"We see tremendous success in Europe with wireless carriers bundling music services with data plans," says one, noting that while those European offers include a PC component, the primary traffic comes from mobile. "PC access is more of a nice-to-have feature as opposed to a driver."