Matthew JC Powell: Don’t take that tone with me

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This article appeared in the 1 October, 2007 issue of CRN magazine.

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Matthew JC Powell: Don’t take that tone with me
Apple recently added a feature to its iTunes Store whereby iPhone users, having purchased a song, can select any 30-second snippet of the song and download it as a ringtone to their iPhones. The feature is not available in Australia yet because the iPhone is not available, but the phone will be, and so then will the ringtones.

Rather than the rapturous applause that usually greets Apple announcements – especially anything associated with the planet-revolutionising iPhone – this one has been met with something between indifference and derision. It’s as if Steve Jobs announced that the G4 Cube and CyberDog were worthwhile ideas after all.

Why? Because downloading the ringtone costs the same as buying the song — 99 cents in the US, so $1.69 when it’s available here — and you can only convert songs you’ve purchased from the iTunes Store. So if you just want a ringtone, it will cost you $3.38 because you have to buy the song first.

You can imagine the howls of outrage. “Why would I pay $3.38 for a ringtone,” whine the whipper-snappers, “when I can get free ringtones any time I want?” They have a point.

Why do the young have such a deep-set reluctance to pay for music? Is it because none of their music is worth paying for? Is it because they’re tech-savvy leading-edge types on the frontier of a new economy? Is it because they’re stupid? Can I say all of the above?

True enough you can get “free” ringtones from any number of companies advertising on cable TV. That is undeniable. Of course, the SMS that you send requesting the free ringtone costs you $4.50, but the SMS back from them is totally free. The one after that, however, costs you $4.50 again. And the one after that. And the one after that. But the one after that is free. Bargain.

Ah, you say, you tech-savvy pioneer you, I just unsubscribe before they send me the first ringtone that costs $4.50. Oh, that’s smart. Of course, the SMS that says “STOP” will cost you $4.50 to send. And then they send you one that says “Are you sure?” for which you pay – you guessed it – $4.50. And how much do you reckon it will cost you to send another one to them saying “Yes”? I don’t need to answer that – you’re bright enough to figure it out.

I don’t mean this to sound sneeringly dismissive of teenagers’ intelligence. I was a teenager once, and man was I stupid (hey, it was the 1980s – everyone dressed like that). I don’t remember ever paying $18 for something and claiming it was free, but I wouldn’t put it past me. In my day, of course, we didn’t have mobile phones to melt our brains and drain our wallets.

So, having acquired my wisdom, I’d like to pass it on to the young stupid generation. Here’s my advice: if you must have a mobile phone, set the damn thing to vibrate.

Matthew JC. Powell likes the old time rock and roll. Soothe your soul with
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