Say Ha-Ha To Lala, iPod-Only Streaming Service - InformationWeek

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6/6/2007
03:38 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Say Ha-Ha To Lala, iPod-Only Streaming Service

I couldn't get on Lala, the new music-streaming service that's so popular one day after its launch that it's apparently down. No matter; the idea of a service which combines the worst features of the defunct mp3.com business model with a lock-in to Steve Jobs's proprietary (yep, that's the word for it) iPod platform isn't the service from which I want to be getting my dinosaur rock tunes.

I couldn't get on Lala, the new music-streaming service that's so popular one day after its launch that it's apparently down. No matter; the idea of a service which combines the worst features of the defunct mp3.com business model with a lock-in to Steve Jobs's proprietary (yep, that's the word for it) iPod platform isn't the service from which I want to be getting my dinosaur rock tunes.Lala offers free streaming music, and its business angle is that the free streams are supposed to entice customers to order CDs from the site. Order CDs? Heck, I've bought one CD in the past two years--Sheryl Crow's Wildflower, her underrated homage to Elton John. And that purchase happened only because I had a birthday gift certificate in my pocket and was in a mall with a record store. In mid-2007, I defy anyone to find a bricks-and-mortar record store.

But back to Lala. I tried to go to the horse's mouth for the story, but over a period of a couple of hours, Lala was down today, no doubt due to all the traffic driven via Google News. Nevertheless, this is not an auspicious debut for what's presumably intended to be a mass-market music site.

(Speaking of the dinosaur rock angle, when I went to the home page of the Warner Music Group, which has licensed its tunes to Lala, I was greeted with a picture of the Traveling Wilburys, two of whom are deceased.)

Perhaps Lala was envisioned as much as a venture play as a going business. True, that's a harsh comment, but so many startups these days fall into the category of "what were they thinking?" I'm not saying that about Lala, because they found a couple of reputable venture capital firms to stake the company to the tune of $14 million. And that ain't iTunes pocket change.

Still, it's the site's iPod lock-in which really sticks in my craw. As my three regular readers know, I'm a huge fan of both the Samsung YP-Z5 MP3 player and the Microsoft-MTV URGE music service.

The reason? It's the subscription model, stupid. Why pay even a paltry 99 cents to own a tune (regardless of whether it's with DRM or without) when you can listen to anything and everything you want, and load it onto your player, for $14.95 per month> That's a much better deal than iTunes's pay-as-you-go model.

Interestingly, URGE and the other viable music subscription services (notably, Rhapsody and Napster) are all aimed away from iPods and towards the Windows-oriented MP3 players, which constitute such a miniscule percentage of the market.

Several years back, in a major marketing push, Samsung poured tens of millions of dollars into an advertising push intended to dent Apple's dominance. It didn't work. Today, the confusing market dynamic is that the iPod has won the player market, hands down. (Sure, Sansa, Creative, Samsung and others continue to release new players, but they don't come at Apple frontly anymore). At the same time, the subscription services seem more vital than ever.

So, where are they getting there customers from? Is it only aging Beatles fans like me? (Yes, I know, you can't get Beatles songs from any of these services. And McCartney's solo work, just made available, is small consolation for this fact.)

Steve Jobs has rejected any suggestions that he take up the subscription model. Clearly, that's because he'd lose a whole heck of a lot of revenue. Still, the dirty little secret is that most high-school and college kids don't pay for their music from iTunes or anywhere else. They get it illicitly from the surviving peer-to-peer services--mainly Limewire.

Which is why online music subscription services, with their reasonable costs, are a more sensible option for an industry trying to stanch piracy than lawsuits will ever be.

As for Lala in particular, I'd tell you more about it if I could actually log on, though I'm pretty much planning to stick with Amazon for any (rare) future CD purchases.

[Update, 9:30 pm, Wed. John Kuch of Lala contacted me via email, taking issuing with my characterization of the service as "locking" users into iPods. John pointed me--and I would therefore like to point my readers--to Lala's press release. It notes that "LALA.COM will allow music fans to host an iTunes or any other digital library and have them universally accessible from any PC or Mac with an Internet connection." It also says that "LALA.COM includes support for Windows XP and Vista, Mac OS X v10 and later, iTunes 7; and the service is best enjoyed with Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 and later and Firefox 2.0 and later."

I'm still a fan of URGE and stick with my comments about CDs, but blogging is all about having a conversation and so I wanted to give John and Lala (or is it LALA, but if so why are they SHOUTING?) their say.]

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