Friday, September 14, 2007

The Ringtones Racket

The whole ringtones racket is predicated on the notion that ringtones are something different than songs. This notion is bullshit. You don’t turn songs into ringtones; you treat them as ringtones. They’re not even a different file format. It’s just a different context for playing the same song on the same device.
Gruber sounds off on ringtones. Or, perhaps, goes off on ringtones. For the most part, I agree with his stance. Apple's offering is weak (and strong) for all the reasons cited, but I think much more blame should be heaped on the music labels to whom Apple is beholdened and less on Apple for not taking them on more aggressively over this issue.

Further, I think Gruber underestimates the complexity of negotiating music rights -- there might be only 500,000 ringtones in the initial offering, not because the labels said no, but because there are so many parties involved who have to sign off on any changes in rights. You can't just "turn on" ringtones for each major label -- all the little guys downstream have to agree also.

Of course, Gruber's central tenet that additional rights aren't necessary removes those hurdles altogether. Unfortunately, the precedent is otherwise and we must suffer the consequences until someone breaks the model. I don't think Apple would mind that at all.

UPDATE: Fake Steve Jobs weighs in: I hate to say it, but Gruber is right about ringtones



  1. I listened last night to a podcast (I think its called "the mac life") in which Gruber was being interviewed on his stance w/ the ringtones and the NBC debacle.

    He pretty much just said what he posted about a few days back regarding the ringtones.

    From what I can understand about it, the 'ringtones' feature in the last iTunes push feels pretty beta. I expect us to see some updates to the ringtones functionality, hopefully sooner then later. I just feel bad for the folks out there spending money on the current ringtone structure.

  2. Yeah, I saw where he was on the show. There's definitely room for improvement, but I think Apple's hands are tied a bit, at least for now. Hopefully, they won't have to lock down the third-party work arounds that currently let you bypass the restrictions. Of course, none of this matters if you don't have an iPhone....