What the app sells, however, isn't just access to Songz, who logs in to the network about three times a week--usually with a short message, snapshot or quick video. In fact, the social currency that Songz' "Angels" buy into has much in common with games and dating sites: Users lavish virtual gifts on each other, send out private messages and buff up their profiles.
Take sexycharizma37's recent purchase. By bidding 2,500 credits, she gets to have her profile picture on an Instant VIP board for six hours. The higher she bids, the higher the position of her picture. Some fans have bid 5,000 credits for the privilege. Such one-upmanship is a core mechanism in games. (Credits can be purchased via in-app purchasing options ranging from 99 cents for 100 credits to $24.99 for 5,000 credits.)
"It's pure ego," Handmade Mobile chief executive Neil Goldberg says. "People just want to be visible in a social network, and they're willing to pay to do that."
What else are they willing to pay for? How about 100 credits to send a private email to Songz? Or a virtual gift, which is really just an icon or a GIF, to another Angel?
Songz formed his fan club, the Angel Network, years ago as a Web-based message board where he and his mother chatted with his fans. He later migrated to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. While he still posts on those platforms as marketing vehicles, he also uses them to send fans to his app, where he can make money. If Songz can convince 300,000 of his 15 million followers on other social networks to use the app, he could potentially generate $250,000 a month in gross sales, according to estimates from Handmade Mobile.
Kevin Liles, Songz' manager and a former senior executive of Island Def Jam and Warner Music Group, concedes the approach may not work for all artists. "It has to be just the right guy, the right message, the right lifestyle," he says. "Some artists don't like to get down and dirty with their fans. With Trey, he wants to talk to his fans every day. For him, this has been an exceptional win."