The wireless handset that we used to refer to as a cell phone is now morphing into a multimedia personal communication device, and continues to grow in popularity around the world. Beginning with the third-generation (3G) handsets a few years ago, mobile data networks and increasingly sophisticated handsets have been providing users a variety of new media offerings. Whereas the Internet and desktop computers have dominated the paradigm shift in the past, the future belongs to wireless mobile technology. Already, the growth of cell phone adoption outstrips Internet adoption. In late 2008, it was estimated that there were over 4.4 billion cell phones in operation globally.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project reported in early 2008 that over 75% of Americans use either a cell phone or a personal digital assistant (PDA). And 62% of all Americans have some experience with mobile access to digital data of some form, whether it is text messaging or music downloading.
Mobile Internet penetration in the U.S. has been slower than in many European and Asian countries where the communication industries have bypassed wired cable connections in many areas. In 2007, M:Metrics Research reported that only 5.7% of mobile subscribers in the U.S. listened to music on their mobile phones, compared to 13% in France, 15% in Germany, and 19% in the U.K.
The Pew Center for Research reported in mid-2009 that “”more than half of Americans - 56% - have accessed the internet wirelessly on some device, such as a laptop, cell phone, MP3 player, or game console.” By April 2009, nearly one third of Americans had used mobile devices to access the internet for emailing, instant-messaging, or information-seeking. The same study found that 45% of adults have iPods or MP3 players, but only 5% of adults have used such a device to go online.
Mobile Music Sales
Until 2007, the majority of music sales for mobile devices took the form of ringtones, or more specifically, mastertones —short excerpts from an original sound recording that plays when a phone rings. The market for ringtones and mastertones developed in the mid-2000s but saw a decline in sales for the first time in 2007 as consumers moved away from phone personalization features and began to adopt full track downloads to mobile devices Ringtones accounted for 62% of the mobile music market in 2007. Ringtone sales fell by 33% in 2008, to 43.8 million units in the U.S. (SoundScan), with a 25% reduction in dollar value, from $714 million in 2007 to $541million in 2008. The drop has been attributed to consumers “side loading” their own mastertones, meaning they create and load their own ringtones from a computer rather than purchasing them via their mobile network.
The global mobile music market is expected to rise to more than $17.5 billion by 2012, driven by subscriptions and sale of downloads, according to a Juniper Research study released in early 2008. The mobile music market is expected to be more successful in the area of subscription services, unlike the home-computer-based network, which has seen disappointing numbers for music subscription services. A 2009 study by Juniper Research claimed the global mobile music market would double by 2013 to $5.5 billion. In 2009, Japan was the leader in mobile music purchases, with 140 million mobile singles sold in 2008.
It is time for all marketers to prepare for the inevitable shift from computer-based marketing to mobile-based marketing. This will include "just-in-time" marketing campaigns, proximity marketing, and access to a host of shopping options for the portable consumer communication devices.