Ring tones seem to be everywhere these days. You can’t buy a cell phone without seeing customizable ring tones as a selling feature, and chances are you can’t watch five minutes of MuchMusic without seeing a commercial for something related to ring tones. I personally don’t understand why the idea of changing your ring tone is so enticing – then again, I usually have my phone set to vibrate. Maybe I can get custom vibrations? Like a variation in the length or something. Anyway, I digress.
David Carr wrote a piece for the New York Times yesterday in which he explained that today’s youth are accustomed to getting things for free. They download music and movies, and would rather record a TV show using a VCR than plunk down some cash for a TiVo or similar device. The only form of media youth spend money on seems to be ring tones:
Earlier this month at the Web 2.0 conference, John Battelle, an author of a book on search and one of the organizers of the conference, empaneled a group of teenage consumers that he assembled (at no charge, by placing an ad on Craigslist). They dutifully admitted that they did not pay for music or news or video, but most said they still spent $40 to $60 a month on media.
So what medium finally cracked the code on youthful intransigence?
Ring tones, available for now only from their wireless providers.
Have ring tones really cracked the code? Hardly! The only reason we don’t see teenagers (and anyone else for that matter) swapping ring tones like they swap music is because the entire process is too difficult. It’s easy to share a song, download and play it, and even transfer it to a mobile device. Most people somewhat familiar with computers can figure it out (and as Rick points out, young kids are savvy enough to use BitTorrent for their swapping). Ring tones are a different story though! It’s not clear how you create a ring tone, let alone share it with your friends so they can install it on their phones too.
As soon as someone makes it dead easy to create and share ring tones (and the tool or service reaches a critical mass of eyeballs), the market for ring tones will be history. Does anyone really think that a ring tone is worth $1.99? I certainly don’t. Especially not after Apple et al. have convinced me that a song is worth just 99 cents!
Read: New York Times