Friday, June 6, 2008

Slight Change of Heart: Lala vs Ad-supported music

At first I was totally opposed to Lala's new model of charging $0.10 for unlimited streams of a song--how on earth did they plan on competing against the free streams at imeem? Then my friend Adam started sending me albums to check out on Lala. I could listen to the whole thing straight through for free, no ad interruptions. Had he sent them to me on imeem, I would have had to put up with a 15 second audio commercial every couple songs.
On the surface, this limited interruption might not sound like a huge deal. But let me put this another way: think of your favorite album, the one you loved the second you heard it, that you listened to from start to finish and didn't multitask while doing so. If the first couple times you heard it, a McDonald's audio ad telling you to buy a Big Mac played between every other song, would it still be your favorite album? Would you have listened to it from front to back? I'll give you a "maybe," but in a lot of cases you'd give up or it at least wouldn't have struck you nearly as heavily.
At this point in time, the primary use of streaming services is still to try out music before deciding whether to buy or not. While Lala's model might not make them any money on streaming revenue, the simple fact that you can listen to the entire song or album for free or next to free and purchase it from the same page is genius. Would I like to see them drop the $0.10 rule and eat the extra costs? Yes, from a consumer standpoint, but it wouldn't be a smart business move--by adding the preventative measure of requiring people to pay to keep streaming, even if it's a trivial amount, Lala forces the user to reach for his or her wallet no matter what, and at that point they might as well invest the extra couple pennies in buying the mp3s (the actual revenue generator).
I was thinking about it the wrong way--Lala is not directly competing with imeem, they're competing with iTunes and Amazon. And kicking their asses. At least for now...
(On a side note, I have no idea who has kept Lala funded through all their different iterations (not even a year ago they were strictly a CD swapping broker), but I want them to fund my startup--they sound patient and willing to throw some cash around)

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