Sometimes new media media ideas get retrofitted into older media. A perfect example of this is a start-up called LaLa, which takes distinctly new media concept — using the Net to share files — and applies it to an older technology, the Compact Disc.
Part MySpace, Netflix, eBay and iTunes, La la incorporates pieces of each: Users list online the CDs they both want and have. In the process, they find others who share the same taste in music. Then, when one user requests a CD that another person owns, the owner drops it in the mail in a pre-paid envelope. The receiver is billed $1, plus 49 cents for shipping; the shipper pays nothing.
It’s devilishly simple, of course, and 100% legal.
So far, it still isn’t a crime to swap your store-bought CD with a friend, even if that “friend” is someone that you’ve never actually met face-to-face. So good on them for leveraging virtual communities of people with the same musical tastes: not so far off what you and your friends have been doing for years and years, only now that circle is potentially much wider.
In addition, they have a wide selection of music (1.8 million), and ways to track and punish those seeking to rip off other people. This all makes a lot of sense.
The only question is this: is LaLa too late? Has the transition from plastic to all-digital eroded the market to such an extent that people won’t do this en masse? Perhaps, but there are still billions and billions of CDs out there, and that’s just in my collection. So even though people might be moving forward with digitizing all of their entertainment, they might be willing to spend $1.49 on something they never wanted to pay the ridiculous $20 for in the first place. Even if they immediately rip it for their iPod and never actually play it in a CD player. And perhaps even make a copy for their physical world friends — you know, the ones that they’ve been making mixtapes and mp3 CDs and iPod playlists for since the 1980s.
Anything that increases the chance of a person hearing an artist that might just change their life forever is (a concept that the RIAA seems to be against, despite being a huge impetus for file-sharing), and is totally legal, to boot, is fine by me.
If this catches on I have no doubt that the RIAA will claim it’s a copyright violation. It isn’t, but of course truth is not a primary concern for the recording industry.