Yesterday's coverage of wireless telecommunications was pretty thick, and
understandably so given the blockbuster deal between Cingular -- owned by SBC
(NYSE: SBC) and BellSouth (NYSE: BLS) -- and AT&T Wireless (NYSE: AWE). Lost in
the shuffle was a less important but nevertheless interesting feature on Forbes'
website discussing mobile phone ringtones.
I spent three weeks working in a large, newsroom-style office in London in early
2002 and was struck by -- among other cultural differences -- the sheer variety
of mobile phone ringtones I heard in any given day. Whereas in U.S. Fool HQ in
late 2001 I could only remember an echo cavern of identical tones, in London I
was seemingly surrounded by dozens of chirpy radios, each tuned to a different
station. Even now, leafing through the back pages of England's FourFourTwo
magazine, there are all manner of ads ready to help your phone's milkshake bring
all the boys to the yard with a variety of popular song tunes.
The phenomenon is growing Stateside now, as Chana Schoenberger noted yesterday
in Forbes. Some $2.5 billion was spent on ringtones worldwide last year, her
article said, with $80 million of that coming from the U.S. -- up from just $20
million in 2002. That's seen jumping another $20 million this year, which is no
surprise given that they're relatively inexpensive (generally between $1 and
$3), even if the idea may seem a little strange at first. New phones can even
handle song files of MP3-like quality.
The confluence of pop music with the generally young demographic that uses
mobile phones and shops electronically would seem to point to the potential for
pretty easy, high-margin money to be made here. Also worth watching out for are
such similarly downloaded services as games and wallpapers, which let users
personalize their phones even further.
Already mobile phone makers such as Nokia (NYSE: NOK) and Motorola (NYSE: MOT),
the music industry, and service providers are catching on -- as have some
unauthorized retailers who've apparently found a new battleground to contest in
the copyright wars.
So don't be left out: From Outkast's "Hey Ya" to Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to
Heaven" to "You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone" by Brooks & Dunn, there's a
little something for everyone's phone.