Saturday, December 16, 2017

People Are Idiots - Paying For Ringtones

People used to pay for ringtones for their phones, and at one time, paid for texting.   Why was this?

Years ago, I used to write Patent Applications for some pretty odious businesses - the cell phone companies, the cable television business, you name it.   It is not that the inventors were bad people or even the companies were bad, but that the industries had a money-grabbing aspect to them, where they felt they needed to go after every last nickel a consumer had - by selling a compulsive-addictive product.

Yes, long before Facebook figured out how we would get high on dopamine from "likes" and comments, the Cable Companies knew how we would obsessively channel-surf, and the cell phone companies knew we would obsessively talk - and later text - on the phone.   Find something people obsess about, sell the product, profit.

And before then, it was liquor and cigarettes.   This shit never ends, really.

But getting back to cell phones, one thing that appalled me in the 1990's was how texting was marketed.   Texting was almost an afterthought of the cell phone business - originally devised as a way of sending ancillary digital data.   The bandwidth required was really de minimus and as a result, texting really cost the phone company nothing to provide.

But as I noted in earlier posts, companies sell perceived value, not actual value.   When they make a car, they don't add up the cost of materials, labor and overhead and tack on a "reasonable profit" and that becomes the selling price.   Yes, a lot of naive college kids think things like that, too.   Rather, they sell what the market will bear.   So a popular SUV sells for twice as much as a plebeian unloved sedan, even if both cost about the same to make.  Guess which is the better value?

The same was true for outboard motors when I was a kid.   Johnson (OMC) made a V-4 outboard in 85, 100, and 115 HP models.   Each had the same number of parts and cost the same to build, but each had a different price.  They were selling horsepower, not engine parts.   Ditto for my work at Carrier - we sold chillers in different capacities, often being of the same frame size.  The costs were largely the same to make, but we sold them based on capacity, not cost-to-build.   GM used to sell the same small-block Chevy V-8 in most of its cars in the 1970's in a number of configurations - as a 305 or a 350, with two or four-barrel carburetion.  Same number of parts, same cost of construction, we sold them based on horsepower, not how much they cost to build.

So the telcos sold texting plans based on the perceived value to the consumer.   And back then, people paid pennies per text and actually signed up for texting plans and paid extra above and beyond their voice plan so they could communicate in a more cumbersome and less effective manner.   I just didn't see it, and never signed up.   And that's probably one reason I don't text today or have a texting plan on my phone.

Others.... well, they couldn't wait to pay extra for this sort of stuff.   And back then, we also sold ringtones.  You may not recall this, but back in the day, people would pay dollars for ringtones, often several dollars at a time.  Some folks actually would change their ringtones weekly, paying for the privilege of having a "special" ringtone on their phone - once again, status rearing its ugly head.   It was idiotic, it was madness, and people did it in droves.

Today, well, less so.   A friend of mine is a Neil Diamond fan, and lamented that her new smart phone wouldn't play "Sweet Caroline" as her old flip-phone did.   I grabbed her phone and managed to link it with mine (don't ask me how, it was one of those dealies in the setup menu you never use).   I downloaded the song from the Data Card in my phone to hers, and then selected it as a ringtone.  The phone even has a feature where they will select an optimal part of the song to use as the ringtone.   All of this - for free.   It took about five minutes to do, and she was very pleased.

Today, there are kids young adults who never heard of the idea of paying for ringtones - or paying pennies for texts.  They get all of this "bundled" into their data plan, even if they are using something as plebeian as our GoPhone pay-as-you-go plan (which Mark has) which provides unlimited texting and 3GB of data, and of course, unlimited phone calls in the US and Canada for $40.75 a month. (UPDATE: For $55 a month, you get 20GB of data, and we ditched our UVERSE as a result and just use phones as WiFi hotspots.  Today, they are offering plans for $40 for 15GB - prices are falling and service is improving).

Now, some might argue that back in the "good old days" we also paid by-the-minute for long distance service (a term alien to today's youth as well).   And it wasn't cheap.   Call your Grandma in California from New York, during peak rates in the middle of the day, and that phone call could cost several dollars.   Dad would scream when he got the bill at the end of the month - no, the phone didn't have a display telling you how much each call cost, either.   But back then, regulations, forced phone companies to offer basic phone service for cheap, which they made up for with long-distance services.  And long-distance did have an extra cost to the telcos, as they had to pay for all that switching gear and long-distance lines and the operators to run them.   Today, less so.

But unlike texting or ringtones, the cost wasn't essentially zero.    And of course, over time, the free market took over.  Since the cost of ringtones was basically nothing (other than copyright claims for some music) and since texting uses leftover data bandwidth, companies had little costs for these items, and could offer them for free or "unlimited" as part of a monthly subscription service - much as Netflix lets you watch all you want or rent all the DVDs (remember those?) you want for one monthly fee, instead of paying by the eaches.

But it begs the question - what sort of unnecessary bullshit are we paying for today that really costs nothing to make and is really not essential to our daily living?  Maybe it is $1000 smart phones or $70,000 pickup trucks.  Maybe it is designer coffees or upscale burritos or "craft cocktails."  It is something to think about.  We ratchet up our daily expenses, a penny at a time, and then later on wonder why we are broke.

Because it is all-too-easy to go broke, one ringtone or one text at a time - or whatever the modern equivalent is.