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Click and Believe - Ringtone Cash, Dating Sites, Etc.

A friend jettisoned by the starving real estate market is now getting started in Internet marketing, and today he asked me how people make money on the web. I was instantly tired.

Nothing else in this world has such an immediate fatiguing impact on me. It’s like that question is kryptonite. Oh well. It was a friend, so I had to answer in a helpful way, but I really needed to make it entertaining for me as well (if for no other reason than to keep me awake). So I put on my consultant hat and shot from the hip. I do well under pressure, and as a consultant I completely enjoy flying by the seat of my pants in front of an audience (the higher up on the corporate ladder the better). This time, I asked him to give me one example opportunity he had heard of, and I would brainstorm in real-time a monetization scheme for him to consider. He picked… are you ready for it? Ringtones.

Okay so ringtones… those short, low-quality excerpts of popular music that people program into their cell phones as ringing sounds. My dad was a professional musician for part of his life, and he called them “quotations” because, well, in jazz that’s what they are. An excerpt from another work, inserted into a piece, is called a “quotation”. Anyway how do you make money in ringtones?

Rather than give him the modern Shoemoney arbitrate-the-hell-out-of-PPC approach, or get-in-first-on-CPA (which is all good in hindsight), I went creative in real time. I pretended it was 2003 and the question was honestly “how to make money on the web”, and the idea was ringtones. I’ll try and type it out as stream of consciousness here for effect.

Ringtones are short and need to have popular appeal, right? Search engines read text, right? Searchers search artists and song titles, right? Ads make money when they are clicked, right? People like free stuff, right? Copyright law allows “short clips”, right? Well, put it all together and you have monetization opportunity.

Write a program to rip a song into small pieces. Save each piece as a .wav. Chop each song on a popular CD into a dozen or more short bits, giving not a care in the world to where it is chopped or the quality of the recording. Store the artists, song name, and CD name in the database along with the “ringtone”, naming the ringtone file with a variant of the song and artist (like “soulja-boy-crank-that-ringtone1.wav” and “soulja-boy-crank-that-ringtone2.wav”). Build out that database with all the popular artists and songs into hundreds and thousands of “ring tones”. Automate the whole thing if you want, because you can probably script the rip with fruity loops or Acid Pro or even jobshop the whole thing it on guru easy enough, along with parsing of the CD and song titles via a web service (I think we used Gracenote back then?).
Now make the website the usual SEO way… search by artists, by song, by ringtone, by category, etc.. with individual pages and tagging and all that. Basically cross-reference it to death with anchor text, leaving obvious and accessible landing pages by artist, by song, by album, by genre, etc. Sitemap it etc. all the typical SEO stuff — I’d help you with that.

Add a simple media player for listening to the samples, and make sure it works really well on those landing pages but don’t invest in a good one because you want it to be easy but tiresome to use for dozens of samples. Pepper the whole site thing liberally with “free ringtone” ads, except keep those sitemapped landing pages fairly clean.

Recognize the key here is the ringtones will all have the right names, the right titles, from the right artists, cross-referenced the right way, but they will all suck. Chopped at the wrong places, not memorable, not enough quality, etc. And not clearly violating copyright via fair use, or at least in the gray areas. That’s the design, because you want the users to follow their dream towards finding that free Soulja Boy ringone on your site, but you also want them to lose patience with your sucky .wav ringtones and click an ad. Browse and click… move along.. browse and click, always finding exactly what they were looking for (artist, song, ringtone) but not really (wrong snippet, bad borders, un-appealing selection of ringtone).

So the monetization goal requires low quality in a promising package. See the scheme? Good enough for others, but not good enough for me. Let the ads do the rest. If the pages are good enough for the public (but not good enough for the visitor personally) the visitor will not use it (they will click ads instead) but they will still recommend it to friends (link to it, refer to it, talk about it on forums). Make it good enough but not really, and they will click an ad *but* they will also come back to try again another time when they don’t want to pay for a ring tone if they don’t have to (even though, in the end, they will probably have to). Get it?

Of course add the basic “how to install a ring tone” etc. and of course while you’re filling in that ringtone database, cross-reference by cell phone model and add a layer in the hierarchy for cell service providers (t-mobile, AT&T, etc) and of course sign on to the CPA networks etc…. all that typical optimization stuff.

But pay attention to the monetization scheme, I tell ya. Click and browse, always seeing what you seek, yet never finding what you want.

Hmmm… he said. And then I had to tell him he was a little late to the ringtone party, but then he amazed me in that way only an excellent student can amaze his teacher:

just like dating sites“, he said. “You see some potential in every member, but you don’t actually pick any of them. You spend your time until you get tired or give up or change your mind, but you always come back again and you never really find what you’re looking for, but you always believe there is potential in the vast database of members. Like the Plenty of Fish site.”

Yup. Happy New Year. Maybe not ringtones this year, and maybe not dating, but….

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