20 November 2010

The 3 Tiers of Digital Music Bliss (R.I.P.)

It occurred to me after writing last night's entry that this is the simplest way to sum up what was so great about Lala. I imagine that most of us could put over 90% of our purchased music into 3 categories:

Tier 1 - We'll be listening to it again.

Tier 2 - We're glad to have heard it, but don't need to hear it again.

Tier 3 - We wish we'd never heard it, or at least spent money to hear it.

Lala is the only service I've yet encountered whose format seemed to take into account that this is a 3-tiered system, not a 2-tiered one (i.e. take it or leave it). First and foremost, because you could listen once to the entire track for free, you never had to purchase anything wondering what the rest of it sounded like. Buying music based on samples is like buying a house having only been shown one room. This is especially true outside the realm of pop, and most especially in classical music, where listening to 30 seconds often tells you little more about a 3 minute piece than it does about a 60 minute one.

Next, if you wanted to hear the piece again, you didn't necessarily have to pony up $0.89 per track, or several dollars per album, but rather could buy streaming access for a matter of cents. This was the most unique aspect of Lala: a recognition of the difference between Tier 1 and Tier 2. Traditional services, meanwhile, are stuck dealing in black and white. With a download-only service like emusic, you're simply stuck with your choices, while with streaming-only services like Rhapsody, you have to make an additional purchase in order to download the files. A commenter suggests Zune Pass for PC users, and their service is indeed appealing as it includes both streaming access and a few downloads each month. You still have to sign up (i.e. pay) to stream anything more than samples, though, and in this respect, Lala's one free listen policy was still far superior.

Finally, if a track or album continued to grow on you through repeated online listening and you simply had to have the file, you could take the plunge and buy it, often for a dollar or so less per album than iTunes. Conversely, if you got what you could out of a track and didn't really feel the need to hear it again, you could breathe easy having only paid a few cents to stream it. If any other service can find a similar way to ensure that listeners never buy music they don't want, I have to think that customers will flock to that service. Of course, I'm sure all that wasted money adds up to a healthy profit for the current players in this market, but Lala seemed to be doing fine without it; $80,000,000 fine according to Apple.


Anonymous said...

It really is too bad that Lala is gone, but at the risk of plugging MS products for two days in a row (I feel just a bit dirty) you can listen to most full tracks once in the Zune marketplace through the Bing search engine: http://www.bing.com/music

As you might expect, it's best for pop music but there's an amazing amount of stuff from all sorts of other genres in there too. The big downside is that it requires Siverlight (Microsoft's answer to Flash, for better or worse) and I think it might require that you sign in with a Windows Live account, which is free but might be more then people really want to go through.

I still use google as my primary search engine, but when I'm looking for music specifically I usually start there instead.

Stefan Kac said...

Damn. Works like a charm. I have Silverlight already, for Sunday Night Football (which I might not be watching again until next fall after today's humiliation at the Dome...)
I didn't have to register, but I'll be curious to see if it asks for that next time; most other places seem to be like that.

A few days ago, Rhapsody said I could have 25 free listens; I used 3 or 4, and now it says I've used up all 25.