A couple of years ago, there seemed to be no upper limit to the sale — for $3 to $4 — of snippets of music that blast out of cellphones. Billboard magazine created a “hot ring tones” chart in 2004 to track their popularity, and at one point in 2005, analysts predicted an $11 billion ring tone business by 2010.
But the market changed in unexpected ways. For one, more phones were being made with the ability to create or record their own tunes. For another, record labels promoted so-called master ring tones — excerpts from the original pop recordings — for about the same price as the knockoffs but with higher royalty fees. And digital music stores like iTunes began packaging and selling ring tones alongside their 99-cent singles.
All three trends lessened the profitability of ring tone aggregators, like Jamba, the Berlin-based marketer behind the popular “Crazy Frog” melody. Jamba, known as Jamster in the US, is still selling ring tones, but it has expanded into music, video and information services as well as graphics and games.
Cheap chirps remain on the ascent in non-Western countries, said Paul Goode with M:Metrics, a market research company. But in most of the countries that M:Metrics tracks — Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Italy — the percentage of mobile phone subscribers buying a ring tone has fallen consistently.
Ring tones still get the occasional headline, as when the Dave Matthews Band finally authorized digital ring tone sales of its music, or when fans downloaded the “Why don’t you shut up?” retort from the prime minister of Spain to the president of Venezuela last month. (info from The New York Times)