The stupid mathematics of ringtones

Astral Media has come up with a new way to print money by preying on clueless teenagers satisfy the growing needs of the population when it comes to pimping their cellphones, and has opened a “mobile boutique” called, a number guaranteed to be incorrectly remembered within seconds of seeing it. For “only” $6 a month, you can make three “downloads” of either ringtones (those 30-second song snippets people replace the sound of a ringing phone with to sound cool) or wallpapers (images of scantily-clad women that you’ll rarely see because you never stare at your cellphone except to do something that will cover them up).

For you non-math wizards out there, three downloads at $6 a month works out to $2 per download. That’s $2 per 30-second song excerpt or tiny stock photo. If you want to buy them individually, it’s $3.50 per ringtone and $2 per image.

Websites that do nothing but rewrite or republish news releases did not even think to question whether charging $3.50 for a song excerpt was a bit expensive.

So allow me.

If I go to the Dell Music Store, I can buy 10 songs for $7.99, or $0.80 per song. The iTunes Music Store sells most its songs for $0.99, and the most popular ones for $1.29. This is for a song I can download, play on my computer, download to my portable media player and otherwise do what I want with (for my own personal use), including transfer to my cellphone and use it as a ringtone. Astral, on the other hand, wants to charge 270% of this amount for an excerpt of a song that I’ll only be able to use on one device.

Does that not sound stupid to anyone else?

And then there’s the wallpapers. Images are much easier to produce than music, and they’re much easier to get hold of. Why should I have to pay $2 for a picture of Garfield when I can get Garfield wallpaper for free from the cartoon’s website?

It’s astonishing how the mobile industry has been able to get people to pay sky-high prices for things they can get for cheap or even free. I’m not quite sure why this is, but I suspect the fact that the cost is simply added to the monthly cellphone bill (a bill paid by parents in many cases) has something to do with it. Newspapers should take note of this ingenious way to con people out of money.

I only have one ringtone on my cellphone (I have frequent callers tied to letters played through Morse Code so I know who they are). I downloaded the song to my cellphone from my computer (after editing it) and it cost me exactly $0.

Perhaps I’m missing something. But the only thing more ridiculous than the money Astral expects us to shell out for this stuff is the fact that many people will do exactly that.

12 thoughts on “The stupid mathematics of ringtones

  1. Jim J.

    …and describe for me how this is any different than Nike (let’s pick on them) selling a snazzy, heavily-advertised pair of shoes for $100 that it cost them $25 to make, factoring in materials, Third World wages, shipping, and other miscellaneous overhead charges? Or maybe we can pick on Apple and their iPhone, which, while a very nifty gadget – I don’t own one – sells for about $200 (US$) for the entry-level version, but probably only costs them a third of that to manufacture? (yes, yes, product development costs probably push that figure up a little bit, but I’m also surmising the song artists cited in your example receive some kind of royalty payment.)

    Are you saying that companies seek to squeeze as much profit from customers as possible, especially when those same customers (who, as we know, don’t always take a rational analysis approach to their purchases) have demonstrated a willingness to pay what you or I would consider exorbitant prices?

    Wow, stop the press.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      This isn’t about overpriced goods (and whether Apple products are overpriced is up to debate, I think). It’s a question of one retailer selling a lesser product for a much higher price. It’s as if a shoe store decided to sell a single Nike shoe for double the price of the complete pair.

      1. Jim J.

        Extrapolating your argument, no retail store would ever sell a particular product for a price that was any different than the identical product at a competing retailer. And we certainly know that isn’t the case.

        And I’m pretty confident that one could find numerous examples where an inferior product is sold at a higher price at Retailer A than a superior product at Retailer B. (Internet shopping has certainly facilitated this. Consumer electronics is the best example that springs immediately to mind.)

        Your point is more a indictment of consumers acting on imperfect information, and sheer laziness, rather than an indictment of any specific business model.

        In fact, I think it’s a fantastic (and, assuming a perfectly angelic world, a slightly unethical) business model, precisely because it does sell an inferior product at a higher cost.

  2. Tim

    I think there are three reasons why companies can get away with this:
    * Most people don’t know they can do it themselves
    * Most people wouldn’t know how, or be computer-savvy enough, to go through the steps of doing it themselves (“acquiring” the song, editing it, transferring it to a cell phone)
    * Not all people who would know necessarily want to take the time. They may decide that $3.50 is worth the work effort to do it, or learn how to do it.

    That being said, I agree that it is price gouging. And what a ridiculous domain name!

    (I have frequent callers tied to letters played through Morse Code so I know who they are)

    Really? -.-. — — .-.. !!!!!111! Did you build the sound files yourself or does your phone provide that functionality?

    1. Lloyd

      Fully agree with Tim. Most people don’t know how to do it themselves and are too lazy/stupid/technophobic to learn. Using these services puts the tone or wallpaper in exactly the right folder for you to find and assign afterward. But it is rather to simple to DIY. Another thing is that you will get nailed for a “data” fee by your carrier if you do not have unlimited internet access !

  3. Caroline

    Maybe they just told themselves ”Hey! If Quebecor can get away with such overprices, why couldn’t we?”

  4. john

    Why would I subscribe to the Gazette when I can get all the local, national and international news I need for free online?

  5. Head Shaking

    Maybe it’s because I was dumb enough to choose Rogers as my cell provider, but they’ve made it impossible to upload any ringtones except ones purchased from their own store. I’m reasonably computer literate, but I still haven’t found a workaround that would allow me to avoid paying three dollars for a 20-second snippet of a song. So I just use the ringtones that came with the phone. but if I were actually passionate about “personalizing” my phone, I would have to dish out the fee.

    If anybody knows of a way to get around the lock that Rogers places on ringtones, I would be curious to know.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Ringtones depend on the phone more than the provider. I have an old Motorola V551 with Rogers and though it’s a bit picky about encoding settings (and its memory is only 5MB), I can upload MP3 files via Bluetooth and they work. Check with your phone’s manufacturer to see how you can upload your own sounds.

      1. mj_sklar

        While in most cases ringtones depend on the phone more than the provider, in mid-August of this year, Rogers implemented a new policy such that using regular MP3 files as ringtones is blocked on all newly activated phones, even if the phone would normally allow it (eg the same telephone activated with a different telco).

        A work-around that I’ve found is to convert the MP3 to an AMR file. This might not work on all phones, but at least with the Samsung T456, AMR files are seen as “voice notes”, and can be used as ringtones.


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