From the Isle of Wight to Ibiza, from Glastonbury to Leeds, if you've been to a
big music event this summer, you will have noticed some new features alongside
the camp sites, catering vans and chemical toilets.
Also present - and spending a fortune for the privilege - have been the big
mobile telephone brands. Nokia was at the Isle of Wight festival, Orange
appeared at several of the big summer events around the UK and Virgin Mobile had
its own V festival last weekend.
All are there for a multitude of reasons - not least because the crowds are
exactly the youthful, mobile-addicted generation they want to sign up. But this
year, they also have a new motivation, because the mobile phone world does not
just want to support the music business, it wants to become a part of it.
They already are, in profitable but low-profile ways. According to Ovum, a
research consultancy, ringtones brought in up to $3bn in revenues last year. As
we get more used to personalising our phones, that figure is likely to grow.
Ovum even suggests it could double in just four years.
New services will spur that growth. These include personalised ringtones where
the caller hears the receiver's choice of music, rather than the traditional
ring. It might sound unlikely, but mobile users appear keen to inflict their
taste in music on their callers. "These things were launched two years ago in
South Korea and became a huge success," says Dario Betti, a senior analyst at
"We don't expect the same level of interest as we've seen in Asia, but already
T-Mobile, in six months across Europe, has half a million subscribers. It didn't
really have too much promotion, but they managed to hit the spot there."
The mobile business is as keen on ringtones as its customers, because we are
willing to pay comparatively large amounts for them. On our PCs, we can download
a full track from an online music store for around £1 - often less. Walking down
the high street we can buy a physical CD single for £1.99.
Yet, on mobiles, customers are willing to pay £2.50 for an often unconvincing
ringtone arrangement of a tiny portion of a song, just to project a little bit
of personality every time someone calls us.
The only people unhappy with this arrangement are the record labels. That's
because those screeching tones being sold in their millions were (obviously) not
actual recordings - just arrangements of their hits. Ringtone vendors did not
need to pay the labels for rights - just royalties to the composers and song
publishers. The labels were cut out of the equation, and it cost them millions.