You’ve got to give Nokia points for ambition. The phone manufacturer’s new Ovi Web services which includes a digital music store and games download service is exactly the kind of structure the mobile entertainment industry needs.
It works seamlessly between mobile devices and PCs. It includes a range of devices developed from the ground up to work well with the system. And it’s got the brand power of Nokia to handle marketing, which means a whole lot more in Europe than it does here.
But will it work? Besides the 800-pound gorilla that is iTunes casting a shadow over the whole initiative, every wireless operator that Nokia works with has their own mobile entertainment offerings that, to varying degrees, competes with this new scheme.
At first glance, what Nokia is offering looks far more robust and useful than any carrier service I’ve seen to date, but better doesn’t always equate success. Consumers tend to follow what’s easy and convenient, not what’s best.
Still, the model that Nokia introduced this week should serve as a blueprint for how to marry Internet services with mobile services. They shouldn’t be two separate things that require complicated translations or hoops to jump through, as many do today. They should be one, in terms of access, delivery and billing.
At some point, these disputes over ringtone royalties between publishers and labels need to get settled once and for all. Now Bob Marley’s estate is suing label Universal Music Group and Verizon Wireless for their agreement to sell ringtones based on Marley’s catalogue.
The issue comes down to whether or not UMG’s existing deal with the Marley estate covers the sale of ringtones. UMG says it does, the Marley estate says it doesn’t. Ringtones are not CDs, nor are they digital song downloads. They’re a “new” format in the grand scheme of things that wasn’t taken into consideration when most of these older deals were established. Is it a product? Is it a license?
I’m not going to rail against the Marley estate for filing the claim. The thumbs-down on this story is more directed at the ambiguous state of legal interpretations in the digital space that allows such lawsuits in the first place.
There’s not much time to get this figured out. Ringtone sales are flattening. The double-digit growth in the sector is over, and in another few years we can expect the market to even decline.
Those not participating in the ringtone game right now haven’t the luxury to sit back and wait for big upfront fees in return for an exclusive, or to haggle over a few percentage points. The opportunity to profit from ringtone sales, at least significantly, will soon pass.