In the early to mid-2000s, the cabability to play a personalized sound for incoming calls — usually a blaring matter of moments of a favorite song called a “mastertone” — was actually a fun novelty for folks buying their first cellphones. Ringtones became an aural fashion accessory, as people scrambled to personalize their phones with all the newest or coolest tunes.
Mastertones mimicked the clarity of the items you can hear on the radio, making the ringtone a simple and addictive way to hear snippets of one’s favorite music. People also could assign different ringtones to different callers — say, “Take This Career and Shove It” when your boss calls, ha ha — as a sonic type of Caller ID.
Simultaneously, much was made from the huge amounts of money ringtone sales taken to a grateful music industry which was struggling to adapt for the digital age. “It’s the evolution of the intake of music … I remember taking a look at forecasts back in 2005 and 2006 that sort of touted ringtones because the savior of the industry, because it was revenue that was really growing from nothing,” said David Bakula, senior v . p . of client relations and analytics for Nielsen Entertainment.
“It was a fantastic barometer of methods everyone was starting to live around entertainment on their own phones,” he explained. “Ringtones were a really big element of that.”
Ringtones were popular in part because they were one of the primary audio products you might access over your cell phone, said Richard Conlon, senior vice president of corporate strategy, communications and new media for Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), the songs-licensing organization.
“There was a tremendous novelty phase connected with https://www.mobilesringtones.com, and our hope is at the ’04, ’05, ’06 period, when things were still climbing, that people would see (ringtones) be considered a gateway product,” he said. “We saw the current market grow from $68 million retail in the U.S. in ’03 to around $600 million in ’06.”
In 2006, the RIAA instituted the initial awards system for ringtone sales. Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” earned the distinction to be the greatest-selling ringtone ever during 2009, going 5 times platinum. But then the sales dipped. Regardless of the enormous expansion of smartphones, mobile audio products like ringtones and ringbacks (that is a song that plays while a caller’s awaiting an answer) brought in only $167 million last year.
Two things: The novelty in the musical snippets wore off. And that we learned how to make custom ringtones free of charge. Musical ringtones could be costly. Consumers who desired to both own a song in its entirety and possess the otaqjf play as his or her ringtone were required to make two separate purchases. Costs for ringtones varied, however the 20- to 30-second snippets were often pricier than purchasing the whole song. Somebody that updated their ringtones frequently could easily pay $20 monthly or even more.
However with the rise of audio-editing software and free Web programs dedicated to making ringtones, users could easily manipulate sound files to create their particular custom ringtones from songs they already owned. So when smartphones evolved, with their enticing menu of video, games, music and Facebooking, suddenly ringtones didn’t seem so exciting anymore.
“The accessibility to numerous other stuff on your own phone takes the main focus slightly far from some of what were big before,” said Bakula of Nielsen. “These different methods consumers want instant, on-demand use of a limitless number of titles has truly changed the model in just about any entertainment category that we track. What you see one day, a treadmill year, might be completely opposite the following year. And that was one thing with ringtones.”
There’s another factor at play, too. Surveys have demostrated that as text-messaging has expanded in popularity, especially among younger users, people don’t make calls as frequently. So ringtones are a lesser priority.
Cellphone users may well not consider them just as much, however the gradual decline in the once-lucrative ringtone has become bittersweet for people within the music industry.
“Admittedly, it had been a bit sad,” said BMI’s Conlon. “In BMI’s early digital days, we made more money from ringtones than anything else; it accounted for more than half of our income stream. And today when you consider it, it’s basically zero.”