Just over a decade ago, an enterprising gentleman named Vesku Paananen realized that people were getting fed up of hearing Nokia’s Gran Vals ringtone (aka De De De De Deeee) and might like to hear an alternative sound when someone called them. Paananen’s brainchild was duly given digital download form in 1998, a whole industry was born, and – somewhere along the line – Crazy Frog made a lot of money for Jamba.
The next step – monetising original music recordings on the handset – has been somewhat more problematic, at least outside Japan and South Korea. Last week’s comment by Music Ally's Paul Brindley that Nokia’s Comes With Music had achieved just 23,000 subscribers in the UK since its launch six months ago (a number that Nokia did not deny), illustrated that, for all the effort that operators and vendors have put into promoting mobile music services, the public has yet to respond in substantial numbers.
The service allows consumers to download an unlimited number of DRM-protected tracks in WMA format to a Nokia handset and/or PC for 12-18 months (depending on the length of the contract) after the purchase of the handset. However, to retain access to the service at the end of that period, the user will be obliged to upgrade to a new handset, although – and this is absolutely crucial – he or she will retain access to tracks already downloaded.
Given that 3 UK has been offering Comes With Music at a monthly premium of just £5 to a standard monthly contract with the Nokia N95 8GB, this means that for £90 over 18 months you could happily download the entire back catalogue of all four major studios plus those of a fair smattering of independents, and hang on to them afterwards. That represents a fairly hefty digital collection.
It also represents a very attractive offer: the failing lies not in the proposition, but how it has been promoted. And therein lies the problem.
Traditionally, tracks have largely been sold on a simple, pay per download basis, and Apple’s iTunes has created the benchmark against which all other such services must compete. Any kind of subscription service therefore needs to be both simple to understand, and with a simple pricing structure. And those charged with selling the service need to understand the value of what they are selling.
As so often with mobile entertainment, one of the key hurdles is public awareness. For a customer to buy a mobile entertainment service, he or she needs to be made aware that it exists. And when they are made aware that it exists, they then need to be persuaded – or in this case, made aware – that what’s on offer is a very good deal indeed. If Nokia – and other purveyors of mobile music services – really wish to maximize revenues from this sector, then a much greater emphasis must be placed on the in-store upselling of value added services.
A coda to this entry: I have just upgraded my handset. Gran Vals is now my default ringtone once again. I really must get round to changing it…