While downloading personal ringtones are still the hot trend in the United States among young people and their cell phones, accounting for close to $400 million in sales, the future belongs to sideloading—downloading and transferring full-length tracks over mobile networks to cell phones. Young people in Japan and England are already on this trend, but it has yet to catch-up in the U.S. for several reasons: First, most people in the United States are used to downloading music onto their computers, organizing it, then uploading it to their MP3’s; secondly Americans are more used to listening to music via their stereo system and want high-quality sound.
Sound on a cell phone obviously is different and many people are so used to short snippets of songs (rather than full songs) as their ringtone, that there’s some skepticism that the public would be OK with full tracks. In addition, as reported in our North American and European Youth Culture Studies 2005, many young people are so into ringtones, that often the sales figures from buying the snippet of a song has eclipsed the actual sales figures of the full-song itself.
Verizon Wireless, according to a recent news story and press release, which already offers full-song downloads in Britain, is also planning on bringing these capabilities to the U.S. Napster and Apple are also getting into the download mobile music business by promoting handsets that users can hook-up to their personal computers. The concept is to get people used to sideloading before paying for their downloaded songs.
Last month, Apple and Motorola teamed up to produce the ROKR mobile phone that can hold up to 100 songs and comes with iTunes software and is currently offered through Cingular. And Napster has partnered with Ericsson to launch a mobile music service to launch in Europe next year, followed by the U.S., which would allow users to purchase and download tracks wirelessly.
Whether this trend takes off in the U.S. is yet to be known and comes down to things like convenience and cost. Currently, it costs less to download songs via a computer rather than through a wireless network. And computers are already set up for data transmission. The fickle American market may be a harder place to launch the wireless sideloading concept, but if does take off, it’s the youth culture market that’s most apt to adapt to the new source of music (via their cell phones) the fastest.