hello to Elvis? Ringtones tap into a million-dollar market
Landon's boyfriend calls her on her cell phone, and she's
treated to the celestial strains of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus."
When it's her family in Texas calling, her phone plays the
theme from television's "Dallas." NYC friends set off a round
of "New York, New York." Pesky unidentified callers? She's
warned with a snippet of Elvis' "Suspicious Minds."
you see, had become bored by the generic jingles programmed
on her cell phone at the factory -- the reveille, the William
Tell Overture, the Mexican hat dance. So she joined the army
of consumers now spending $300 million a year, according to
one market study, to download customized "ringtones" for their
wireless companies, it represents big money -- the next step
in a technological evolution that has transformed the mobile
phone into a personalized multipurpose gadget for talking
to friends, surfing the Web, sending e-mail, snapping photos,
and listening to tunes.
for the music labels, it could mean a lifesaving foothold
in the digital download market during financially troubled
times. The industry takes this very seriously, so much so
that Billboard magazine now tracks the nation's Top 20 ringtones,
alongside its well-established charts for album sales and
radio play. Most ringtones come as "MIDI" files: brief, synthesized
versions of songs created especially for the cell phone market.
$1.99 to $2.49 a pop, ringtones are actually costlier than
downloading the original recordings from a service like iTunes
or Napster. They're also, believe it or not, more popular:
According to Billboard, in its first week tracking sales last
month, the No. 1 ringtone, "My Boo," sold 97,000 units, whereas
the No. 1 downloaded song, U2's "Vertigo," sold only 30,000.
That surprised Billboard's editors, says Geoff Mayfield, the
magazine's director of charts.
the download you get the whole song, the full dynamics and
vocals, and you can play it as often as you want. With the
ringtone you get 15, maybe 20 seconds of a synthesizer approximating
your song. And yet the No. 1 ringtone outsold the No. 1 download
by more than 3-to-1.
the economics of it, and the value proposition, we were just
stunned that it was so big." Explore the ringtones market,
says Mayfield, and you'll quickly find that "it's a hip-hop
world." Rappers Snoop Dogg, Lil' Flip, Chingy and Petey Pablo
dominate the Top 10. Hip-hop artists have been the most aggressive
in marketing themselves with ringtones.
offers a free ringtone of his single "Just Lose It" for consumers
who purchase the double-disc collector's edition of his new
album, "Encore." Sir Mix-A-Lot has signed an agreement with
Versaly Entertainment to produce ringtones for the youth market,
to be made available by most U.S. carriers. Ludacris, Kanye
West and the Game joined forces to produce an original ringtone,
"Anthem," for Boost Mobile (a division of Nextel); the song
is featured in Boost's TV ads, and proceeds from its sales
have raised more than $20,000 for youth organizations.
popular are TV and movie themes: "Sex and the City," "The
Godfather" and "John Carpenter's Halloween." Latin music --
both rock and salsa -- is a growing market. You can even get
your fix of Bollywood hits from India. For all the buzz about
custom ringtones within the music and wireless industries,
the trend is in its infancy as a mass-culture phenomenon.
to a survey of cell phone users conducted by NPD, a market
research group, only 14 percent of those who had phones with
the capability to download ringtones had done so -- still
a long way from market saturation. But as NPD's director of
industry analysis, Ross Rubin, observes, "Improvements in
technology are allowing manufacturers to enable these capabilities
in more affordable phones. So today, even the free phones
that you get from carriers will offer polyphonic ringtones,"
which produce harmonies rather than single-note melodies.
on higher-end phones we're starting to see ringtones that
are actual samples of the song. Different carriers have different
names for them, but they're called things like 'true' ringtones."
Here the United States is following the lead of Asia, where
consumers have wholeheartedly embraced wireless communication.
"It's ... been all the rave in South Korea, where millions
of people have subscribed to ringback tones," explains Thomas
Hesse, president of Sony BMG's global digital group.
see enormous potential and a great dynamic in the mobile market,
and some of the markets in Southeast Asia are really showing
the way." While Elvis tunes are popular they don't compete
in raw numbers with today's tunes which are scooped up by
like Eimenen, EIN suggests BMG/Sony could offer a FREE Elvis
ringtone to fans who buy the latest Elvis CD. (News,
Source: Detroit News)