Mobile phone ringtones are becoming more popular than CD singles, creating a boost for the music industry's ailing sales.
Improved technology means young mobile phone users can change their ringtones regularly with pop tunes and TV themes for between £1.50 and £3.50 a time.
The Sugababes hit Round Round made a larger profit margin on the ringtone sales than on its single sales, music company Universal has revealed.
Can the music industry rely on ringtones to bolster its sales? Is it a craze that will pass? Do musical ringtones wind you up?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:
I think perhaps we take our mobiles too seriously. In a world where we have to resort to mobile phones and fashion to express our individuality, I fear for the human race and the shallow people we're becoming. Modern pop culture is just re-hash after re-hash of old songs or should I say "remix" after "remix" Is there so little creativity left that pop has to resort to scavenging old songs? The only music that has any merit in my eyes is original material, played by the artists, live preferably, not some ghostly imitation or snippet on a mobile phone.
I think pirates will take over this industry soon if companies start charging for it.
Don't we just love our culture? When a ringtone becomes music. Jazz? Blues? Chopin? Beethoven? All these are obviously obsolete. Why don't we just become the Borg right now and get it over with?
The next time I hear The A Team theme blurt out from someone's phone on the train, I think I will snap!!!
Brian, Sydney, Australia
The only reason I downloaded a ringtone was so that I could tell my own apart from other phones. I did it to make the sound stand out, something individual. That's all, not to be cool or keep up to date with the latest trends. It just makes it easier to recognise.
Jessie, age 16,
On one side, it's easier to have a different ringtone in order to distinguish when your cell is ringing. Let's face it, every single person on the street caries a cell phone that sounds just like yours. But on the other side, I also think that is not very professional to be with an important client and that the "Simpson's" ringtone or other similar starts playing..... So it's just a matter of knowing when to use them. Anyway, why spend money when there are a lot of web sites where you can download them for free? I don't think this is the future of the music industry.
I wish I had thought of this brilliant way of suckering money out gullible.
Mobile phone users should be regularly beaten about their heads with a sock filled with fresh horse dung. Maybe twice a day. Yesterday I was in a bookstore trying NOT to listen to woman shouting a conversation about her dog's bowel movements.
Peter C. Kohler,
With everything that's happening in our world today, who cares?
I could care less about ringtones and the impact it has on the music industry. Cell phones make people rude, intrusive, and lazy. No one wants to hear a person's personal phone conversation so why would anyone want to hear their ringtone? What ever happened to reading a book when you were bored?
My cellphone rings quite a lot, so if I downloaded one of my favourite songs as my ringtone, it would become one of my least favourite songs very quickly.
Steve Gilbert, USA
As a 16-year old I have never paid money for a ringtone but I compose my own tunes using my phone's composer. These tunes are better than most pop music anyway. Music is supposed to be an outlet for the creativity of the artist rather than its current state in which the only purpose of a pop group is to dance around looking pretty and making money for executives like Simon Cowell. There should be more emphasis on live music, since the experience of a band playing their own songs with real feeling is something that can never be recreated digitally.
The average person's cell phone use in public is very annoying. Now that it has got to the point of paying for an annoying ringtone what could possible be next? Who cares about the music industry's future? We need to teach people proper phone etiquette.
A phone is supposed to ring, anything other is tack. A call is to be answered ASAP not so that one is able to listen and enforce 'music' on others. What ever next?!
Mr Eades, Cardiff
My new phone doesn't even offer normal rings. I wonder if the phone carries are in kahoots with the music industry. Just a thought....
Kari, California, US
This has to be the highest cost music format ever: £1.50-3.50 for 10 seconds of music. People complain about the cost of CDs, but the equivalent cost/listening time for 50 minutes on a CD is £450 to £1,050! The manufacturing and distribution costs must be tiny as well.
Jim McGonigal, UK
Who is sad enough to pay £1.50/£3.50 for a different ring tone every week anyway? I think that it is a complete waste of money and the people who fuel this industry should take a long, hard look at themselves. Shocking!
Ringtones are fun and are a pleasant change to the boring standard tones. Also it helps people to identify their phone by listening to the ringtone of the mobile user. And having more options always help
I turned the ringtone off my phone as soon as I got it. The vibration function serves perfectly well when my phone is in my pocket, on the table/desk, or even in my bag.
To those who say "this is the future" I would ask do you still have your digital watch with 99 musical alarms on it? Thought not.
When I were a lad the craze was musical digital watches (La Cuceracha anyone..?).
Rather than ringtones, I think the real single replacement happens when we can buy, download and play mp3s on our phones, something that's starting to happen now.
However, ringtones do show that there is a viable financial model at work here.
Well as they say technology is evolving all the time. Ringtones are nice, but how do you expect people to pay for them, as there are already now mobiles that use ordinary wav. files as ringtones. These wav. files are basically the same as mp3 files, so you can actually hear the words in a song. And anybody can make these files from an ordinary music track. So why pay for it when you can get it for free?
The future of the music industry is simple. Produce better quality, original music, that doesn't rely of formulaic, repetitive reworks and manufactured bands. Ringtones are just another way of recycling their junk.
It will be more and popular, because everybody now has a hand phone in his/her pocket, instead of walkman or Discman. Of course, mobile technology will be "money machine" even in near future!
Budi Putra, Indonesia
Early telephone ring sounds (length of, and gap between, bell rings) were designed to be as "un-musical" as possible to get attention. The amazing thing is that we learned to accept those ringtones so easily, and look back at them fondly.
Any time a corporation convinces you to express your "individuality" by overpaying for some cheesy gimmick, you've been suckered. People with personality don't need to purchase one.
Ringtones are a temporary reprieve for the music industry. It won't be long before most teenagers' mobile phones are also MP3 players that play MP3 clips with a good sound quality when they ring. Then the kids will download their ringtones for free like they do with every other MP3 and another source of revenue will have dried up.
Stuart Bruce, UK
Just what we need, a way to make cell phones more obnoxious. If American kids are into this, I am thankful that it has escaped my attention so far. I can't think of anything more wasteful or shallow. With any luck, the "music industry" will go belly up investing in this idiotic fad and real musicians will replace fabricated boy bands and American Idols.
This cannot be the case, future of the music industry?? I find that comical... you do not get any melodically satisfaction from a ring tone apart from showing off and angering fellow passengers on the tube.
Let's face it, as most "songs" in the chart today sound like they'd been written on a phone's composer, perhaps a phone is the best place to listen to them.
I remember when not so long ago you could get your ringtones free off the net. Personally I can't think of anything more annoying/embarrassing than having some silly ringtone blasting out at an inopportune moment. A simple "ring ring" will do me!! Plus it's cheaper and leaves you money to buy proper music!
This is a very exciting development culturally. The future is in hand-held devices - ringtones are a bit annoying at the moment but that will pass. Held-held devices offer a great opening for musical innovation and to bring tunes to the masses in the format that clearly people want. Artists - get your thinking caps on!!
Struan Grant, Iceland
Ringtones are more popular than CD singles because ringtones have more musical content than the reconstituted music substitute which makes up most chart entries.
The fact that a song made more money out of ringtones than as a record shows only that is was a poor record; and no more. Greats like "Stairway to Heaven" or the great Beatles tunes simply aren't done justice by some false, heartless, polyphonic imitation, and so are not desirable on a mobile.
Ben, St Louis, USA
It's always been one of my pet peeves to here a cell phone ring like a little electronic symphony or rock concert. If it's a phone, it should RING like a phone!
Just another example of big business extracting money from the gullible. I certainly wouldn't pay for a ring tone but then my mobile allows me to record my own. When my wife calls I hear her voice, when a friend calls I hear my favourite band, when it's a business call I get a serious normal ring.
Vacuous, irritating, repetitive - yes, the music industry are on home ground here!
Guy Chapman, UK
I find it staggering that the cost of buying a ringtone is so high. Clearly it's aimed at teenagers - what a way to encourage young people to be sensible with their money! At least with CD singles you have something you can keep forever.
Companies have been trying to keep with the youth market for 40 years, let alone dictate to it. Seems like they've finally won though, this generation are just corporate clones ready and willing to rip themselves off in pursuit of the next piece of useless tech-crap that they're offered. It's an ominous sign when Art dies and a whole generation can't even comprehend the idea of an alternative. Enjoy your ringtones kids.
Sure, the selling of ringtones is a great and profitable idea. But is it the music industry's future? No way. This is novelty idea: I don't know how many times I can hear the hook of my favourite tune without throwing the phone out the window anyway.
Randall Reynolds, United States
Finally... somebody came up with something less musical than a Rolf Harris Stylophone.
Could anything sum up more poignantly the diminished role of popular music in young people's lives? Future generations will find it incredible that pop once stood for energy, excitement, sex, rebellion and fun. For them it will be just one more soulless corporate brand dressed up as consumer 'choice'.
Guy Matthews, UK
In 2003, it seems that a person’s most valued and public expression of self seems to be embodied in the customized features of his cell phone. Think of all the time we spend customizing the millions of cell phone features. With priorities like these, it’s no wonder we have so many problems in the world today.
On the upside, 20 seconds is about all I can stand of any of today’s music.
By the way, the insinuation that the music industry is in desperate financial troubles is an extreme exaggeration propagated by groups like the RIAA who will say and do anything to thwart the music-loving consumer’s ability to obtain good music. The attention given to the self-inflicted woes of the music industry detracts from the real tragedies of the music industry - a series of missed opportunities and a failure to recognize that the customer is always right.
South Carolina, USA
No. I think the future for the music industry is in concerts and broadcasting rights. Online hosting will have to be outlawed except for the owners of the copyright with stiff penalties for anyone found hosting music and high rewards for anyone who reports them (from the very penalties). CDs and MP3s are going to kill the industry, because once published, forever gone. So live (concerts) or virtual streaming of music and concerts are the only hopes for this industry. It must lobby, legislate and adapt or die. Simple as that.
Amoroso Gombe, Kenya
"Musical" ringtones are without doubt the most annoying cultural development in recent history. There is simply no excuse for them whatsoever. There is nothing more likely to provoke a right-thinking citizen on public transport into an apocalyptic, violent frenzy than a tinny rendition of the theme tune from The A-Team or such like. And why do people feel the need to cycle through all their ringtones in a public place?!
There are some that feel that their ringtone reflects something of their personality. There is a word for these people, but for reasons of decency it cannot be reproduced here. Please, for the sake of sanity, can a ridiculous and draconian law be passed to reintroduce the death penalty for ringtone use? It will save many lives. Especially during this heatwave, all it takes to trigger a bloodbath on a bus is someone's phone going off...
Yet again it does not surprise me that thousands of people are sucked in by yet another passing craze purely designed to make record and phone companies rich quick. Can people not see they are being ripped off? You can't even make out which tune they are supposed to be without letting it ring for ages by which time your caller has hung up!
That ringtones are a more popular purchase than CD singles says more about the state of the singles market than anything else. Singles are overpriced to begin with but when you consider all you usually get for your fiver is one song remixed to death a couple of times then it hardly surprises me that ringtones are more popular. Perhaps if the music industry stopped accusing its customers of theft at every turn and concentrated on delivering the product the consumer wants in the way they want to receive it and at a sensible price then we'd see more singles sold and they'd not need to rely on a fad to boost their income.
I understand that ringtones are marketed on the grounds that your are "expressing yourself". Dear me, are that many people so shallow that their personality can be summed up by an irritating 10-second monophonic ditty?
Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England
Ah, bring back the days of vinyl, you went into a record shop and came out actually feeling like you bought something for your money - people cared more about music then.
Dean Osborn, UK
Forgive me if I'm wrong, but aren't you meant to answer your phone when it rings? What's the point in paying for a noise that you stop within a few seconds in order to use the phone for it's intended purpose?
If your silly enough to waste your money on paying for such a pointless thing, you have far more money than sense!
Jim Fielden, England
I recently purchased a new mobile phone and was disgusted to find that there is no option to have a normal 'ring-ring' type ringtone - Instead, I am forced to subject all my colleagues to a polyphonic catastrophe. As for paying for this form of aural torture, No way!
Andrew Lee, United Kingdom
To say that ringtones are replacing CDs is like saying that soda bottle cap design has superseded oil paintings. Well it has, to those who don't know any better.
Leszek Luchowski, Poland
Ringtones (and other new and upcoming novel services) are here to stay. Both the mobile networks and the music industry are desperate to increase their business now that handset and CD sales have slowed. People always want to personalise their property in some degree, and the current pop hits have always been fashionable to carry around - I think I prefer a ringtone to a ghetto-blaster! I work for a company that provides music on demand to the *caller* of the mobile phone, rather than the called - so be on the lookout for this new service when it's introduced over here from Korea where it's already immensely popular.
David, Berkshire, UK
Few things are more irritating than people who deliberately delay answering their phone just so that everyone around them can hear their fancy ringtone.
What a silly argument! People use them if its a song they like, but not to REPLACE the song... they often sound nothing like the original tune anyway, its like saying people hear elevator music versions of Mozart more often than the orchestral versions, therefore, they must prefer it. Pure lunacy.
Well it just shows you how awful pop music is that it's easier to sell the mobile phone version than the original.
Jim Coleman, UK
I think a musical ringtone is about as stylish as a musical car horn and if you're phone doesn't just go ring-ring then you're a prat. Am I getting old?
Ben, UK: You are not getting old, everyone else is getting stupid
Colin, UK citizen in Germany
Ringtones are a complete rip off, you pay upwards of £1.50 for about 15 seconds of a song!! And how many times do they not sound like the song they are supposed to be (all types of ringtone)? The CD is here to stay - ringtones are a fad.
Just wait till the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) get their teeth into it, it will be a pound to download and 50p every time someone rings you as the RIAA will say its public broadcasting!
This is not a surprising move. For generations people have identified themselves by their choice of music, and so it continues, albeit through a phone. The record industry has been desperate to find ways of protecting and increasing revenue for some time now, so it's not surprising they're seizing this chance for profit.
Let's keep a standard range for speaker output; and an infinite range of music for headphone output only.
The music industry needs to come to terms with reality and realise that their contribution to mankind is not of great importance. With everyone now having the technology to create music and distribute it in easy form (mp3, internet) music becomes a commodity. Unless ringtones are well done they are incredibly irritating. Since they will be around, please make them musical and not just irritating. I personally thought many of the hit CD singles came from ringtones originally!
Even polyphonic rings tones are incredibly irritating. Why haven't the phone makers built phones where you can either download mp3's as ring tones, or allow you to record your own? That would be much more interesting... when your phone says quietly "James, your mother-in-law is ringing you. Ring off now, or press the green button to talk"...
You can get people to BUY ringtones? What a brilliant idea. Why didn't I think of that?
Like any new tech people are always crazy about it, when it becomes so common and cheap then it will become a thing of the past.
Mbah William, Dundee, UK
The assumption here is that the music industry is falling and in trouble - well it's not. They make more than enough money as it is. The ringtones fad is a way of boosting extra revenue for all concerned as the demand is generated by the public. The people to blame are the phone manufacturers who developed the systems in the first place. My kids don't change tunes that often any more - it costs too much and they're getting bored with it. The craze I feel will pass.
I find "musical" (to borrow a HUGELY incorrect expression) ringtones are as annoying as cars with big bass boxes. I can live without other people pushing their "favourites" on me.
Justin Thomas, England
I think this proves that if the music industry can supply a product in a manner that suits the consumer at a price its willing to pay then it can still make a profit from selling music.
Dave H, UK
It is not the music industry's future but definitely it's a journey for the better and successful future. Let's wait and see in a couple of years' time if an individual can use their favourite ringtones without consulting their network. We don't know yet what is on the other side of the coin. I think someone has to monitor its development.
I just wish more people would set their phones to vibrate.
A classic bit of marketing. Find a useless facet of a current piece of technology, tart it up and sell it to kids or those dumb enough not to know they've been conned.
Technology and the way it is marketed is moving forward, better get used to it.
Most polite people answer their phone as quickly as possible in public, such that the ringtone is irrelevant.
Ringtones are easily accessible on the internet. They are delivered straight to your phone. I do not think this is the industry's future however. The producers need to lower their profit margins on other formats to increase sales. Very few people now are happy to pay £15 for an album. Especially with so much music being released. Selling mp3 format tunes over the internet at a reasonable rate would do much to increase the sales of tunes. An improvement in the quality of music released would also win back the student buyers.
Most definitely a craze - the huge popularity of mobile phones is in its infancy. It's only in the past couple of years that they have become pervasive with young people. In a couple more years, having a phone will be no more exciting than wearing a wrist watch... And does anybody actually use the camera in their phone?
If I found my child sitting with a group of friends playing each other their latest ringtones, I would walk on, shake my head and wonder where I had gone wrong. It's not that I'm a sad middle-aged ex-hippy, you understand.
Do we really think the CD etc is dead? Will we dance round phones in clubs? To suggest this is just daft! This is just another way of hearing a snapshot of existing music - it's not a replacement for it. Having said that I HATE ringtones! :)
Are people really so stupid that they cannot programme in the ringtones themselves? Shocking.
This just proves how the music monopolies are struggling to survive after missing all the opportunities it had to embrace the internet and file sharing.
Any revenue stream where they can have total control over via licensing shows that they are not prepared to change their business model.
Huw Davies, S. Wales
It really is pathetic isn't it? Remember one thing: A mobile phone ringtone, never mind how bad it is, can never be ironic. Please bear this in mind.
"Computer games killed the muuusic industreee"... Oh no, sorry, that's not how the song goes! Or is it?
Ever since computers came along the music industry has had its head buried in the sand. And now, in the 'Simon Cowell' era the industry looks even more idiotic and backward than ever. I spend my money on computer games and download REAL music for free. The 'music industry' (what a joke!) deserves everything that's coming to it.
It's a big indictment of the record industry that they will charge the same for a poor quality 10-second snippet of music as they have for a single. Do they have any idea of value? What is even worse is people will pay these outrageous prices. Don't they know you can buy phones that record ringtones? They are no more expensive than other phones and have been around for several years.
James Newman, UK
Now maybe the record companies should stop making such a fuss about sites like Napster and co if they are now making money from something like the ringtone sales market which five years ago wasn't really there.
Andy, London, UK
To be honest it is all these songs are good for.
If the tunes weren't popular anyway people wouldn't buy them for their phones. The distribution mechanism for ringtones is also more efficient, there are no physical goods to ship from place to place.
If the record companies would sell singles in mp3 format over the internet I think they could achieve a fair profit margin.
Ian Clark, UK
Has our attention span dropped so low that we can no longer listen to a single CD and instead opt for the 10-second melody of a mobile phone?
Ringtones can be downloaded legally, very quickly and for a price which people are willing to pay. As soon as we get the same sort of option for singles, then I'm sure that the sales will increase again.
In the meantime, the record industry is still making plenty of profit on ringtones rather than expensive singles, so they should stop complaining about falling sales in this area.
Paul O, UK
With people able to select from so many ringtones the days of 20 people scrabbling to check their phones are hopefully long gone.
The only downside is kids who insist on scrolling through all their downloaded tunes at rock concert volume.