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Ringtones: Really Cool or Incredibly Stupid Waste of Money?

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Hey, I’m at the tail end of the baby boom and you’ve been hearing all about how we refuse to grow old gracefully or cast aside our youthful ways, outlook, thought patterns. Generally this holds true for me: I’m as deeply entrenched in popular culture as ever, and I can still relate easily and often deeply to a culture that is still defined by youthfulness. I have two sets of two kids, the elder 20 and 17, the younger 5 and 1, and I can easily dig both their scenes, man: I’m all hep and shit.

But I cannot for the life of me explain the ringtone phenomenon. The ringtone market exploded first in Asia and then Europe, and I held out the hope that American youth — who are the primary market for this nonsense — would not succumb, but I no longer hold out such hope.

An estimated $4 billion of 30-second tones and other melodies for mobile phones was sold last year, according to Consect, the New York-based mobile consulting and analysis company that prepares Billboard’s weekly chart, with the U.S. accounting for $300 million of that.

I can see that a snippet of a song either in crappy synthesized form, or now, a snippet of the actual original recording, would be kind of cool, in a very limited offhand kind of way, but I can’t imagine in a million years actually PAYING someone (like Zingy, Moviso, Qtones, Ringtones.com) for the privilege:

“Dude, I found some extra cash behind the couch cushion. Should I buy ringtones for my phone or flush it down the toilet, cause I can’t think of anything else to do with it?”

Surely some of you out there have ringtones: Why did you do it? How much do you spend? Will you continue? Are you a satisfied customer? Explain it to me, please.

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About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted, Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.
  • stazz

    my quest is for a polite ‘ping’ ringtone. like a little bell that will ding when my phone is ringing. if i could find that, i think i would be willing to pay a buck for it. but it would have to be one beautiful and eloquent ping for that.

  • DD

    Thank GOD! People over 40 have come to their senses about ring tones and cell phones. I am a baby boomer too and have had all of the nonesense about people talking on their phones in WalMart, Burger King, Wendy’s, Doctor’s offices, post offices, movies and on and on and on until I am fed up with it. Obviously, younger people have no common sense anymore about using cell phones for things unimportant. Is your friends hair color so important that you have to talk on the cell for an hour over it? Hardly!!

  • Eric Olsen

    I’m sure you can find it somewhere!

  • I want to get a ringtone of some old movie character from the 1930s barking: “It’s my dime, so start talkin’!”

  • I don’t care so much about other people’s ringers going off in the elevator or the office lobby. But last week I went to a movie that was very poorly attended. During the showing, no fewer than 4 different cell phones rang – though I suppose it could have been a single phone set to ring in a random ringtone.

    I can understand one person forgetting to turn off the phone – but what about the other three who should have been reminded to turn theirs off when the first one rang?

    Same issue with people who come to a college class or public lecture armed with an audible phone…

  • Eric Olsen

    rumor has it that a significant subset of female mobile phone owners always have their phones on vibrate and can be identified by their Mona Lisa smiles

  • dietdoc

    You have mentioned one of my all time Top 10 personal peeves. It just drives me bonkers. When I hear these phones go off, OK, that’s one annoyance. But, if I have to hear Ludacris bust a rhyme (or Busta Rhyme busta a rhyme!) in my office lobby, I am almost compelled, beyond reasonable self-control, to become physically violent. Next, we will be forced to hear Simon Crowell or, I am most sure, Donald Trump saying “You’re Fired.” Or, God Forbid, Jessica Simpson!

    For the sake of mankind and the small splinter of decency that is left in our society, I beg, please, stop the madness! If you are in your car or your home, by all means – ringtone whatever the heck you want. But, in a public place and, particularly, in an office where other people are waiting – turn the phone off or, as someone mentioned, to vibrate.

    God, Save Us All!

  • What an eerie echo of Homer Simpson last night, selling his dance of triumph over Bart to assorted sports figures.

    What artist would want his creation snippetized, reduced to the tinkling gamut of the cell phone speaker and – worst of the list – interrupted hastitly every time it begins to play?

  • Dave

    I just programmed a friend’s phone the other day to play some Barry Manilow (ugh) song when she receives a call. She gets 2 free downloads a month ($2.50 each beyond that) but she couldn’t figure out how to do it herself. I’ve never done it before, but all I had to do was turn the thing on and follow the menus. Most of the people I know over 45 (I’d say 40 but that would put me over the line) seem to have some inherent fear of or mental block about gadgets.

    My bottom of the line Kyocera phone just allows you to choose between a few standard beeping noises or vibrate, but it spends most of its time turned off and in my car. Never mind their obnoxious ringtones; people who walk around having phone conversations in public deserve to be beaten.

  • My cell phone plays “Watching the Detectives”. I paid 1.99 for it when I got the phone a year ago, would never have paid more, and will probably never buy another one.

    Having said all that, I totally agree that cell phone etiquette is important and ring tones are annoying. I never keep the ring on if I’m anywhere that it would be intrusive, and I turn the phone off altogether if I’m in a theater or a restaurant or the doctor’s office, etc.

  • Heh. The RIAA’s defense.

    I have no cellphone and am proud of it. Color me inaccessible and ringtone-free.

  • I’m one of those people who thinks cell phones should be kept on vibrate unless absolutely necessary. I can tell you about dozens of times when meetings have been disrupted by inappopriate ringtones, commuter train altercations over them when people are trying to sleep or read, and even medical office visits that are interrupted by some assuredly cataclysmic call about what the practitioner wants for dinner.

    If MP3s were indeed downloadable into phones, most assuredly I’d put in something like The Mothers’ “Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet” or Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music” to make a point about how absurd the concept is.


  • Bob

    The amazing thing about the ringtone industry is that teens and young adults have no problem paying $1.99 per download for a 20-second polyphonic version of a song. Yet, these same teens and young adults think that spending .99 for the complete MP3 version of a song on itunes is a ripoff.


  • i certainly wouldn’t pay any money for a ringtone.

    now, if i could somehow download a chunk of one of my own mp3s into a phone, i’d consider buying that phone.

    oh yea…i’ve got some heinous modern ‘jazz’ with which to annoy people.

  • Eric Olsen

    so that’s 2 “no” votes, I take it?

  • The next time I’m standing in a bookstore, a record store, a movie theatre, or hell, walking down the street, and I hear an obnoxious version of Funkytown blasting out of someone’s pocket, there might be bloodshed.

  • yea, i don’t get it either.

    but then again, i’m somewhat of a luddite and most new technologies just end up pissing me off.

    i do have a cell phone but it’s a several year of nokia that has almost no features.