Apr 3 2014, 1:14pm CDT | by Forbes
BlackBerry unveiled paid stickers for BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) tailored for Apple's iPhones and Google's Android smartphones two days ago. Premium sticker packs with 20-25 stickers cost roughly $2 in various currencies around the world. They are basically themed emojis meant to be inserted to text messages to emphasize or complement written content. It is not clear at all how consumers will respond to BBM stickers. Japanese and Korean consumers love them and sticker sales for messaging apps like LINE and KakaoTalk are now generating hundreds of millions of dollars per quarter for Asian texting app champions. But BBM’s user base is probably older and more professional than that of its Asian rivals – will stickers resonate with the BBM base?
The early signs are highly positive. In Africa’s biggest smartphone market, South Africa, BBM has rocketed to #3 on iPhone Social Networking app chart measured by revenue generation. It is worth noting that the Asian sticker giants LINE and WeChat are at #22 and #37. In South-East Asia’s keystone app market, Indonesia, BBM is also already at #3 on Social Networking revenue chart, with rivals LINE at #1, Path at #2, Viber at #6, KakaoTalk at #14 and WeChat at #18. Indonesia has been a battleground for all leading messaging apps. Immediately after the sticker feature debut, BBM started beating far more established rivals with bigger user bases. It’s certainly interesting that BBM is already performing on par with Viber in app sales considering Viber was recently valued at nearly $1 B and it has a long head start over BBM in offering in-app purchases.
As a matter of fact, the early interest in BBM stickers is so high that BBM has shot to #18 on Indonesia’s iPhone sales chart of all applications, as well as #32 in South Africa. BBM is a Top 100 app measured in revenue generation in 10 countries. The new feature also seems to be goosing download volumes, as BBM is moving back to Top 50 iPhone download status in UK, Canada and India.
Of course, this could all be early curiosity that fades away. But it’s also worth noting that the sticker launch is so fresh that many BBM users have probably not even updated their app. Moreover, usage of stickers takes time to percolate through the user base of the messaging system as consumers new to the idea begin experimenting with it and the portfolio of sticker books expands to various niches and genres (sports teams, pop stars, unicorns vomiting rainbows). The surge of early interest may imply that many iOS and Android users of BBM in emerging markets are, in fact, younger than BlackBerry users were a few years ago. The early adopters of BBM were indeed businessmen; the premium price of BlackBerry models created an aura of exclusivity around BBM and as the app became available for iOS and Android users, younger consumers have flocked to the software platform that still carries some remnants of high income status in emerging markets.
The most important thing for BlackBerry is to show genuine traction with sticker sales in Latin America, Africa, Middle East and Asia. Consumer comfort with the idea of buying in-app purchases within the BBM platform would then be the gateway to marketing and distributing games, manga, video clips, horoscopes, etc. That revenue opportunity is at least 3-6 times larger than sticker sales alone. From that point of view, the gateway drug sampling is proceeding well indeed in the early days of BBM’s venture into the mobile content market.
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