Record execs are all fired up about ringtones… and with good reason. Ringtones of all kinds (monophonic, polyphonic, and real music) are selling like hotcakes to an ever-expanding market of cell phone users. (Next column: Who buys all those hotcakes?) As for cell phone users, many of us happily pay more for a good ringtone than we do for a better-sounding version of the complete song, as odd as that might seem. The world liked ringtones to the tune of $4 billion in 2004 ($300 million from the US alone). This means ringtones generated one full eighth as much money as the rest of the worldwide music industry, and about a third of the US market.
Ringtone revenue constitutes some of the best news record executives have heard in a while. But before the champagne flows, these executives need to remember that people usually buy ringtones of songs they’ve already purchased. And with the right tools, people can actually transfer music from their own music collections to a growing number of MP3-capable phones. They need to remember that not so long ago, people struggled with ripping CDs… and now, it’s just about as easy as playing them, for the average computer user.
Ringtones will follow the same trend, to a certain extent, meaning that the market will be split between those services that offer ready-made ringtones for download and those developers who work on software to turn music into ringtones. As for secure files, you can’t use those for ringtones, and you probably never will be able to, since music stores would rather sell ringtones and songs separately (cha-ching).
It’s definitely easier to pay for a new ringtone on your phone than it is to create one from a song in your music collection. But when you consider that most services offer a fairly limited catalog, ripping your own ringtones becomes a more attractive option, especially if your tastes run toward the obscure. Most people have music collections that already represent a near-perfect pool of songs from which to choose ringtones. That’s why I predict the ringtone market won’t be the cash cow the music industry thinks it will be.
Become “Lord of the Ringtones.”
As a bonus, I’m going to show you a few ways to create your own ringtones so you can hear sample songs from tunes in your own record collection. It can take a little bit of elbow grease, especially if your phone doesn’t support MP3 ringtones. But even if your phone only plays monophonic ringtones, you too can churn out your own ‘tones.
Note: Here are two lists of MP3 ringtone-compatible models. They’re a good starting point for determining real music ringtone compatibility, but no matter which service you use, check their site to make sure your make and model qualify for what they’re selling.