In the early to mid-2000s, the ability to play a personalized sound for incoming calls — normally a blaring matter of moments of a favorite song called a “mastertone” — had been a fun novelty for individuals 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 what 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 several callers — say, “Take This Job and Shove It” whenever your boss calls, ha ha — being a sonic type of Caller ID.
At the same time, much was made of the millions of dollars ringtone sales delivered to a grateful music industry which had been struggling to adapt to the digital age. “It’s the evolution of the consumption of music … I remember looking at forecasts back in 2005 and 2006 that type of touted ringtones since the savior in 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 how everyone was beginning to live around entertainment on the phones,” he explained. “Ringtones were an extremely big a part of that.”
Ringtones were popular to some extent simply 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 music-licensing organization.
“There was clearly a tremendous novelty phase connected with https://www.mobilesringtones.com, and our hope is in the ’04, ’05, ’06 period, when things were still climbing, we would see (ringtones) be a gateway product,” he explained. “We saw the current market grow from $68 million retail inside the U.S. in ’03 to about $600 million in ’06.”
In 2006, the RIAA instituted the very first awards system for ringtone sales. Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” earned the distinction for being the largest-selling ringtone ever in 2009, going five times platinum. But then the sales dipped. Despite the enormous growth of smartphones, mobile audio products including ringtones and ringbacks (which is actually a song that plays while a caller’s waiting for a solution) introduced only $167 million this past year.
A couple of things: The novelty in the musical snippets wore off. And we learned how you can make custom ringtones for free. Musical ringtones may be costly. Consumers who wanted to both own a song in their entirety and also have the otaqjf play as his or her ringtone had to make two separate purchases. Costs for ringtones varied, nevertheless the 20- to 30-second snippets were often pricier than getting the whole song. Someone who updated their ringtones frequently could easily pay $20 monthly or more.
However with an upswing of audio-editing software and free Web programs committed to making ringtones, users could easily manipulate sound files to produce their particular custom ringtones from songs they already owned. So when smartphones evolved, using their enticing menu of video, games, music and Facebooking, suddenly ringtones didn’t seem so exciting anymore.
“The accessibility of a lot of other things on your own phone takes the main objective slightly far from some of the things that were big before,” said Bakula of Nielsen. “These different ways consumers want instant, on-demand use of a limitless quantity of titles has really changed the model in nearly every entertainment category that people track. What you see some day, or one year, may be completely opposite the following year. And that was the one thing with ringtones.”
There’s another factor at play, too. Surveys have shown that as text-messaging has expanded in popularity, especially among younger users, people don’t make calls as often. So ringtones are a smaller priority.
Cellphone users may well not consider them the maximum amount of, however the gradual decline in the once-lucrative ringtone has become bittersweet for individuals in the music industry.
“Admittedly, it was a little sad,” said BMI’s Conlon. “In BMI’s early digital days, we made more income from ringtones than everything else; it accounted for over half of our income stream. Now when you think of it, it’s basically zero.”