If you're like most music obsessives, in addition to trolling iTunes every day, you probably still go down to the local record store on weekends and flip through the used-music bins looking for bargains. But while some musos have trouble justifying a $6 purchase of a slightly-worn Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water, would they buy it for a buck?
The folks behind the Palo Alto, California, Internet startup La La are hoping so. The service is offering the chance to trade used CDs with other users for less than $1.50, with the promise of choosing from what it says will be the biggest music database on the planet.
"My son was born 16 months ago, and I was sitting around the house, and for the first time since college, I was listening to new music again,"
said co-founder Bill Nguyen about the inspiration for LaLa.com, a virtual swap meet where users can post the CDs they want and try to unload their undesirables. "I listened to a Fountains of Wayne record and I thought, 'Why aren't they bigger?' It got me thinking about what we can do to make a music service that is more usable. With the options out there now, people still can't always find what they want."
Nguyen got together with some fellow Net vets from eBay and Yahoo! and set about building a site that would be part MySpace, part Netflix and part eBay, with a virtual store containing a catalog of albums that he says now numbers 1.8 million, already more than iTunes' catalog. The site also has the kind of community functions that allow music fans to gush about their favorite albums and argue about which Flaming Lips record is at the top of their list.
"Wouldn't it be great if instead of a search engine telling you that if you like Bob Dylan you'll like the Rolling Stones, there was an engine that was based on interaction with other people, and as you added music to your list your recommendations would constantly change?" asked Nguyen, 35, whose own eclectic collection includes Madonna, Snow Patrol and Toby Keith. "La La should work like your local used record store, where the aisles are cramped and you bump into people and have a conversation about music." By clicking on the albums on Nguyen's list, you can tell La La which ones you already have or ones you want, at which point the site will set about finding someone trying to trade a copy. Nguyen's page also shows you his friends and links to a list of other people who share his taste.
When a user requests a CD, the owner puts the disc in a prepaid envelope supplied by La La and the receiver is billed $1, plus
49 cents shipping. That money can in turn be used by the seller to "buy" another CD.
The site also includes an unusual twist for any CD reseller, online or
off: La La has pledged to give 20 percent of the proceeds from each sale to musicians — though they're still trying to figure out how to actually get that money into artists' hands, according to a spokesperson.
La La is still in beta test mode, with a target launch date of July.
The number of CDs you get depends on how many you ship to others.
Similarly, the more CDs you add to your "want list," the more recommendations you get, increasing your odds of getting a CD quickly if you ship your CDs to other members in a timely fashion. If you can't find the CD you want on the site, La La will give you the option of buying or downloading it for retail price. Nguyen says the eventual plan is to hook users up with local record stores, so if they are in a hurry and don't mind paying more, they can buy the CDs directly from the retailer.
"It's really about giving people the most opportunities to try new music," he said. "And I think people will buy more music. The average customer on La La trades two to three CDs a month and buys a new CD every month, which is four times the average that people buy in a year."
While the Recording Industry Association of America has spent recent years suing users who have illegally traded files online, the owners of La La say the resale or trade of legally purchased CDs is covered by the first-sale doctrine of the U.S. Copyright Act, which protects a consumer's right to sell or trade a copyrighted work he or she has paid for.
A spokesperson for the RIAA declined to comment on the La La service.
For complete digital music coverage, check out the Digital Music Reports.