Would Somebody Answer that Thing?
Gillian Law, IDG News Service
A phone is ringing on a crowded
train. People frown, look around, look back to their papers, and grit their
teeth. Whose is it, and why aren't they answering the silly thing?
It was bad enough when you had a choice between an electronic ring and what was
generally known as "that annoying Nokia tune," but London's tubes, trains, and
buses now resonate to the tinny beat of downloaded, half-baked attempts to sound
like chart songs. When two or three start to go at once, my bus can sound more
like a video game arcade than a method of transport.
Ringtone downloads account for 10 percent of the world's music market, or $3
billion in business annually, according to a recent report in the U.K. newspaper
The Guardian. There's even talk of having a U.K. music chart based on them as
they become more popular than singles. The top ringtones reflect what's selling
well and playing on the radio, and people are paying up to $7 for each one.
For the music industry, at least, it's a move in the right direction. After the
struggle to stop people downloading music for free, the industry is thrilled to
find something consumers are happy to pay for--and to replace every week or so.
So long as a song has a strong hook or chorus, it can easily be transformed into
a semi-recognizable polyphonic ring.
Teenagers vie to have the most up-to-date and hip songs. The current most
popular songs in the U.K., according to Manchester, England, mobile content
specialists Text Media, are D12's "My Band", Eamon's charming "F**k It (I don't
want you back)", and Frankee's sweet response-ditty, "F U Right Back". Older
people (well, me) don't even know half these songs, so there's not even a chance
of being cheered up by a favorite tune.
In Asia, too, ringtones and other electronic paraphernalia are delivering strong
revenues for the music industry, providers of other sorts of visual and audio
content, and the aggregators who actually deliver the ringtones. Ringtones,
polyphonic ringtones, logos, logoshapers, picture messages, and so on dominate
the classified advertisement sections in Singapore newspapers and have spawned a
host of Web sites offering Cantopop songs from popular artists like Andy Lau,
Angel Ho, and Mavis Fan, which have the appealing capacity of sounding better as
a ringtone on a handset than they do in the original.
Easier on the Ears
One bit of good news is that, as phones improve, so will the sound of the
ringtones. Even if you don't know the song, it'll at least sound as it does on
the radio, rather than like your 4-year-old playing a xylophone. Hurray for
The next advance, ring back tones, which feature the original music rather than
synthesized sound, is likely to bring even better returns for the music industry
in Europe and Asian countries such as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore.
Still, the other day a colleague pointed out a simultaneous, if contrary, trend:
those people who don't download ringtones but just choose from what's already on
the phone are often choosing the anachronistic sound of an old-fashioned dial
telephone. Now that one really does sound odd when you hear it coming from
someone's handbag. A hankering for the old days, perhaps?