Napster (the one that was brought down by the RIAA, not Microsoft) was the first online music revolution. Consumers loved it, but many artists (most infamously Metallica) opposed it, and labels loathed it. The iPod, which grew out of digital music collections fueled in part by Napster, started the second online music revolution, one that begat the iTunes Music Store (iTMS) and is still going strong after selling more than a billion songs.
Both the iPod and the iTMS benefited Apple, of course, but labels have had mixed feelings toward it as it has led to the disintegration of the album. When I recently asked the company, for example, about the ability to sample all the tracks on an album with one click in the iTMS (a feature that's been available on Amazon.com for years), Apple VP Eddie Cue replied that customers haven't asked for that. iTMS has benefited consumers by enabling them to acquire just the songs they want at any time, but its usage terms, while progressive for legal digital music, aren't as flexible as those for music ripped from CDs.
Can la la be the third online music revolution? The CD trading community still in private beta has much in common with DVD trading site Peerflix. On la la, you can trade any CD you have for any CD you want that’s available in members’ collections for only $1 plus postage. Like Peerflix, la la offers mailers to members to keep postage costs low and blows away half.com in making it easy to list and find CDs with an impressive search engine and catalog. I was able to enter the names of 80 of my CDs 10 minutes into trying the beta.
La la also includes social networking components so CDs are recommended depending on what your friends have. This is a bit speculative in my view as many of my friends have musical tastes that vary widely from mine and, indeed, I found some of the recommendations a bit eclectic. I’d rather see la la use a system like Pandora’s recommendation system.
You don’t have to sell any CDs that you list on la la, but you will likely get requests for some of them. I felt this part of the system to be a bit invasive, particularly as requests are sent via e-mail at this stage of the site’s development. La la notes that you will eventually be able to have requests occur only on the site, and I’ve been encouraged by a recently added feature that allows you to designate in advance the CDs with which you’re willing to part. The subtle pressure stemming from the attention that my CD collection subset received reminded me a bit of the last rule of Fight Club. “If this is your first time on la la, you will trade!"
In any case, we’ve certainly heard about companies that facilitate trading music before getting into trouble. Is la la painting a target on its back for the RIAA? I’ll discuss the legal and industry implications of la la in next week’s column.
Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group and a contributing editor for LAPTOP. Views expressed in Switched On are his own. Feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.