Interesting article
January 11, 2002 2:24 AM   Subscribe

Interesting article from The Guardian discussing the fact that people seem willing to pay for annoying ringtones, but seem unwilling to pay for near-CD-quality music. Unfortunately it doesn't really address the question of "why?"
posted by jedro (15 comments total)
Because people (especially teenagers) are much more comfortable with micropayments from mobile phone bills, than they are with payment via credit card subscriptions.

posted by MintSauce at 2:40 AM on January 11, 2002

I think it's also about customization and personalization of an, until very recently, monolithic consumer product. It's not much about the ringtone or the logo itself, but more about the credibility they provide. Granted they have to have some other "qualities" that allow them to confer this credibility.

Anyway, the fact that these things are used on mobile devices is key, because it puts your choices out there for all to see, on the street, on the train, in the club, etc. Actual music is either listened to at home, with headphones or communally at a club. It's not public enough to confer credibility on such a wide scale. If it was okay to go around broadcasting your latest downloaded single (hopefully before anybody else) then you'd find people paying through the wazoo for it.

So, record companies can either make boat loads of money off downloaded music or I can walk down the street without being constantly assailed by the latest Robbie Williams. I know which I prefer.
posted by rocketpup at 2:56 AM on January 11, 2002

I have to disagree with MintSauce. There are a few reasons why ringtones make money and MP3s do not:

- Much of the profits in the ringtone sector come from people who aren't paying the bills themselves- eg kids or people calling from offices. This is because most ringtones are bought via premium-rate phone lines. There is no equivalent system for buying MP3s.

- Customisation, as stated above. If you can't afford the latest GPRS WAP tri-band phone or are waiting for the next generation of devices, ringtones allow you to personalise. MP3s are not a lifestyle choice in this way.

- From early on, labels, publishing houses and royalty collection societies were wise to ringtones and set up the structures needed to officially license the tones and prosecute those who didn't comply. Furthermore, the people interested in distributing tones came from the premium rate phone sector- it was always a for-profit motive, as opposed to the MP3 scene, which is more akin to free love and free software. So ringtones have a particular financial value in the customer's mind.
posted by skylar at 3:28 AM on January 11, 2002

So if on 'average' people buy a couple of ringtones a year, at £3 each say = £6. Now if I was charged even £1 for each MP3 track I wanted I'd probably be shelling out about £100+ a year.

No contest really - its a simple matter of the amounts that we are dealing with.
posted by snowgoon at 4:21 AM on January 11, 2002

'cause no one wants to be the lamoid with the factory tones on his or her phone.
posted by tolkhan at 5:48 AM on January 11, 2002

They expand sensory self-expression: tatoos and pierced navels (sight); strong perfume (smell); and now Britney's ringtone...
posted by Voyageman at 6:06 AM on January 11, 2002

If the new digital satellite radio systems

(a) took off, and

(b) had a "buy now" button on a walkman (or even home or car stereo) that downloads and makes the song permanently available on HD...

They'd eat ringtones for breakfast.
posted by mmoncur at 6:19 AM on January 11, 2002

I think we're all missing the most important thing, ladies and gentleman.

The Finnish pop band Nylon Beat hit the number one spot

Nylon Beat?
posted by witchstone at 7:05 AM on January 11, 2002

Unfortunately it doesn't really address the question of "why?"

Something everyone seems to have missed: I have not noticed any marked proliferation of free ringtones through file-sharing or community websites or what-have-you. And I don't imagine many people are so much of a ringtoneophile that they would put the time and effort into setting one up, whereas we all love our music.

If the competition is between free, crap service and expensive, crap service, I know where I'll get my music. If someone constructs an online music service which makes it more convenient for people to pay for their music than to steal it (in terms of catalogue, search, quality of service and added value), most people will sign up for it. But not if that service is still trying to charge the production and distribution costs of CDs for something which costs little to reproduce and distribute. "Consumer" isn't a euphemism for "braindead".
posted by walrus at 7:21 AM on January 11, 2002

Walrus, the two reasons ringtones are not widely available on the pirate scene are a) that many phones have a sort of anti-copy technology built-in whereby paid-for ringtones cannot be sent between handsets and b) because the most efficient way to deliver a ringtone to the mobile handset is via an SMS message. As opposed to with MP3s, the technology required to send an SMS does not come standard with every computer and indeed there is a price (around 6 cents) for every SMS message you send across a network.
posted by skylar at 7:59 AM on January 11, 2002

Thanks for the info skylar. The fact remains that if there were pirate schemes out there, people would steal ringtones, IMO.
posted by walrus at 9:10 AM on January 11, 2002

walrus provided the best most obvious yet somehow hard to grasp concept: if you can get it for free, why go anywhere else? Not to mention that once you get used to getting something for free, it becomes very difficult, almost painful, to suddenly have to start paying for it. Whereas if you'd been paying for it all along, you might not even think twice about it.
posted by David Dark at 11:48 AM on January 11, 2002

David, I think you hit the nail right on the head.

For those of you who care: i will not pay for music. I grew accustomed to the awesome power of Napster and Google and now, Limewire, to provide all my music needs.

I will not pay for ringtones, either. Work pays for my cell phone. But I'm assuming it's a younger age bracket that is paying for ringtones, not us aging Gen-Xers.
posted by schlaager at 1:56 PM on January 11, 2002

Uhm, there's another reason too.

The time it takes to download songs.

We don't mind downloading mp3s for free and waiting 30 minutes (or even hours) for them to arrive on our nasty 56k modems.. but if we had to pay AND wait.. that's just ridiculous.

Now.. if there was a system where I could pay whatever $$ it is and get the songs I choose on a CD-ROM in the mail.. I'd pay for it. But why the heck should I pay for stuff I have to sit and wait forever to download??
posted by wackybrit at 7:55 PM on January 11, 2002

So Schlaager, you never pay for music at all now? If so, I hope you're in the minority.
posted by jedro at 10:07 AM on January 12, 2002

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