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Ringing in the music sales

This week, a press release landed in our inboxes trumpeting the following claim: "Digital music to outsell physical in Asia this year". Surely not? Yes, there's a catch in the fine print.

commentary This week, a press release landed in our inboxes trumpeting the following claim: "Digital music to outsell physical in Asia this year".

"Now hang on a mo'", we thought. Sure, online music stores are going great guns. The iTunes Store has sold millions of songs, and retailers like Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi have launched their own download Web sites, and sell prepaid music cards in-store. But surely we haven't quite reached the point where digital music downloads are overtaking CD sales?

When we took a closer look at the graphs and data, we discovered that the figures comprising "digital music" sales were primarily derived from "mobile music" -- that is, ringtones and tracks delivered to handsets. In the global market, mobile music stomps all over online music. In 2005, consumers splashed out a hefty US$6.37 billion downloading ringtones and mobile tracks, while only US$0.99 billion was spent on song downloads from online music stores.

We were surprised by the volume of ringtone downloads. A quick poll around the office found that only one of the CNET.com.au editors was willing to admit to having paid for a ringtone -- and it was back in the days before polyphonics.

With most phones now sporting Bluetooth and USB connections, it's easy enough to transfer an audio file from your PC if you want a new ringtone. So why are people spending so much dosh downloading them? We're intrigued to find out -- let us know if you're a ringtone junkie at cnet@cnet.com.au.

Meanwhile, here's a quick tip for those who want to shorten a music file so that it's the perfect ringtone length. Download Audacity (a free software app, available from CNET.com.au's Downloads channel), import your file, and trim it to the required size. Then export the file as an MP3, and send that sucker to your phone via Bluetooth or USB. Easy to do, and no cash outlay required.