Wednesday, September 12

Ringles don't make me tingle

ARIA's latest figures show a 47% decline in CD single sales year-on-year.

The only really shocking thing: that so many Australian consumers are still paying through the nose for the physical music product when the identical track is available online for about a third of the price.

Anyway, there's nothing to wring your hands about (unless you own a CD pressing business) because sales of online digital single tracks increased by 64% in the same period, and at $8.38m in sales revenue is a little more than twice the value of physical single sales. Plenty healthy. Factor in the higher margins at almost every step in online versus physical production, distribution and delivery, and it's a healthy business to be in, as long as you're big enough to have a roster of successful artists and at the same time small enough to be able to keep up with the pace and true direction of change.

By "true direction" I mean where the industry is actually going, versus where some believe it can be steered. The former is entirely in the hands of the consumer, influenced by the content offerings available to them, how that content is priced and to what device it is delivered. The latter almost entirely the exclusive domain of large music labels and the industry bodies that serve them.

Evidence of a failure to keep up with the true direction of change: talk of prolonging the life of CD singles by including "ringles" - ringtone versions of the single - on the CD, along with software that will make it "easy" to transfer the ringtone version of the track to a mobile phone.


Please, don't let's pretend for a moment that this might have the slightest chance of widespread consumer adoption! Consider the "Sony rootkit" fiascos, and what might need to be installed on the consumer's PC in order to deliver a ringle from CD drive to handset. Better find a way to provide technical support for Windows '98, 2000, XP, Vista, OS X and Linux installation issues for product that retails for $5. Don't even start about what tiny percentage of mobile consumers ever successfully connect their handset to their PC, or want to do so for any reason.

Is it even possible to deliver a software application within the constraints of CD single data storage limits that might have a chance of being compatible with the diverse community of mobile handset operating systems, ringtone file types and carrier locks out there in the marketplace? I don't like the word "impossible" - it always seems to get me in trouble - but let's just say I'd be flabbergasted.

The only sensible way to deliver ringtones to mobile handsets is online, and for the majority of mobile consumers, the carrier - not the label, not the handset manufacturer - owns that pipe. No CD single "ringle" is going to influence that in the slightest. Labels: work with the carriers... or maybe acquire them. Carriers are to the future of music what radio broadcasters have been in the past, plus the entire retail supply chain. Getting out of that headlock they have on you is going to take more than a "ringle" or two.

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