Unlicensed Ringtones Stole My Puppy
By Carlo Longino, Wed Nov 19 21:00:00 GMT 2003

Ringtonia pointed us to an, ahem, interesting rant blaming unlicensed ringtones for a number of mobile-industry ills, among them "holding back" MMS growth.

The MD of British mobile-content firm Fonedream thinks these renegade tones are a huge problem -- a calls for backwards, RIAA-style thinking as a solution. He says that artists and music publishers (because of unlicensed tones) are choosing to forgo digital content completely, "cutting off a huge potential revenue stream" and serving to "undermine brand value".

Fonedream, of course, is looking to drum up some business.

Here we are, thinking that MP3 downloading was what keeps the music business up all night, but this guy blames those pesky tones again, trying to link them with a 10% decline in global music sales this year. But the answer, he says, is in having licensed content and creating "consumer confidence" and "product understanding." Typical.

He seems to think, like the RIAA, that given a choice between free and unlicensed or paid and licensed media, people will choose the licensed media just because it is licensed. But that line didn't work for Lars Ulrich a few years ago, and it still doesn't fly now.

People will continue to take advantage of unlicensed content as long as there's a reason for them to do so -- the main one being, of course, that it's free. But instead of just trying to discourage people from using rogue content, why can't they be encouraged to use "legal", licensed content?

Give people a reason to spend their money on something they can get for free, and likely they'll do it. Apple's iTunes Music Store has sold millions of digital songs, even as P2P networks continue to thrive. Why? Not because people suddenly decided using Kazaa was morally reprehensible, but because in exchange for that 99 cents per song, they make it easy to find and acquire what you're looking for, and don't make onerous DRM restrictions on the content while keeping them tight enough to satisfy record labels.

It's not surprising that the "black market" for ringtones is so huge. The tones often cost as much or more than buying the actual song, either online or in a record shop, and many people don't usually keep them for very long. It can be a pain to find free ringtones, but usually after wading through pop-ups and porn ads, they can be found, though it may take a few tries to download one that sounds good on your particular phone. But it's just like online music -- give people something where they can quickly and easily find what they want, deliver a high level of quality, and price it reasonably, it will be a success.

But this requires a new mindset -- one that requires looking at users as potential customers instead of theives, trying to find ways to win their business, and in turn, stop their "theft".

I'm still trying to figure out what any of this has to do with MMS adoption.