In today’s Circuits column, tech columnist David Pogue asks an important question about the $5 billion ringtone industry for mobile phones: why does it exist at all? Apple’s latest moneymaker for itself and the labels is the ability for you to re-purchase certain songs you’ve already purchased, so that you can load them onto your phone as ringtones. But before you marvel at Apple’s chutzpah, they’re actually charging less per ringtone than major carriers like T-Mobile, Sprint, or Verizon.
Even worse, you don’t “own” the ringtones you buy from carriers—they disappear after a period of time, and you have to pay another $2-3 for new ones.
As Pogue points out, there are several ways to sneak around Apple’s iPhone security and put any damned ringtone you like on your phone. We can also happily confirm that the last two Nokia models we bought had no restrictions on setting mp3 and certain other audio formats as ringtones (On our latest model, we can assign a different mp3 file to every number in our address book. If we were insane. Which we might be, with this whole “royal we” thing.)
The ringtone sham industry is an example of carriers intentionally throttling access to phone features so that they can make money off of what you’re able to do for free with a song you already own and a free audio editing program like Audacity, provided you don’t buy a “subsidized” phone that’s been locked down with specialized software.
If you’re the type of person who loves custom ringtones, you might want to work out how long you plan on owning your phone and how many ringtones you think you’ll buy over its lifespan—it could work out cheaper to just buy an unlocked phone that you actually control.