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Apple Shutting Down Lala, Another Great Startup Obliterated

First: I Was A Lala User
Second: Why Do Good Companies Ruin Startups?

I Was A Lala User

I’ll give Apple credit for giving a month of advance notice, but on the other hand (that first part was the first hand), why are they shutting down Lala before they launch iTunes.com? I must conclude that it means they’re going to change the business model and neuter features available on Lala.com and they don’t want to have to deal with migrating current users of the outstanding service. How very Apple of them. Not supporting legacy anything is a good deal if you can swing it. And – unfortunately for me – they can get away with it.

Now, I hadn’t bought all that many web songs on Lala, but it was not exactly a trivial investment – especially for someone like me who used to open up multiple BMG accounts to get 10 CDs for the price of 1 and 4 extra for “referring my friend.” I’m happy to give artists money when I feel they deserve it, and that’s precisely why I loved Lala so much. I could listen to every song on there – the full song – and then decide whether I wanted to buy it. For me at least, I think that probably led to more purchases than I’d made in a long time because I got sick of paying for music that I’d never heard and wasn’t sure if I’d ever want to hear again.

Now, I will get an iTunes store credit for the web songs that I’d purchased on Lala… better than nothing, but it kind of feels like buying stock and then having it exchanged for 1/10th of a share in a new company with the same stock price. I’ll use it, because it’s there and I hate losing money… but… then what? Use the new iTunes.com? Or…?

ReadWriteWeb evaluates a few alternatives including MP3tunes, MOG, Napster, and Rhapsody. I’m also going to check out eMusic since I supposedly have 35 free MP3s there… but, in terms of how I use Lala, I think that a combination of Pandora and Amazon will have to fill the gap… With Pandora, I can listen to unlimited full songs for free, and then when I find something I like, I can go over to Amazon and get the MP3. (I could do buy the songs from iTunes as well, since they do sell DRM free MP3s now, but I can’t help but want to avoid Apple since they are the ones who interrupted my music consumption system in the first place) The only issue with my new system is that I can’t just scan new releases, add them to my queue, and then buy the web song for any songs that I want to hear again.

Why Do Good Companies Ruin Startups

I never used Dodgeball so their acquisition and subsequent shuttering by Google didn’t really affect me. But then they took over Jaiku (My posts tagged: Jaiku) and basically shut that down (yeah, it’s still there, but there’s no real support for it any more). Now Apple has bought Lala and is shutting it down. Why?

The obvious answer is: talent grab. Everyone knows that these big companies are basically rewarding the talented developers who started the companies by purchasing their whole company for a significant sum of money. I can’t blame the developers for taking it. And I guess I can’t blame the companies for doing it. That’s just the way the business works. It just sucks for consumers who end up with a crappier end product (eg: Jaiku vs. Google Buzz) because the big company seems to restrict and/or slow the development of the new imitation products. As I mentioned above, the fact that Apple is giving people iTunes store credit for the web songs that they’d purchased on Lala is almost a guarantee that the web songs will not exist on whatever web version of iTunes Apple launches.

Another example: One of my favorite features of Jaiku was the ability to unsubscribe from specific feeds from specific people. So, if I follow someone on Twitter and don’t want to see their imported Twitter feed duplicated in my stream, I could unsubscribe from that and only get their other updates. I have not yet seen that in Google Buzz, and if it’s there, I haven’t seen a place to do it.

It’s tough because, on the one hand, I am very happy for the developers and I do think that they deserve to be rewarded for their hard work. I just don’t understand why, if a site is so successful that it warrants being bought out, it doesn’t continue to be run in that successful manner. Okay, I actually do understand why. I already said it in the second paragraph of this section. The big companies want to pull the talented developers off the successful site to recreate the site for them. So really, what I don’t understand is why the big companies don’t continue to run the successful site and do a better job of integrating it and turning it into what they want instead of just shutting it down and rebuilding.

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Lala Bought by Apple: Please Let This Be Good

According to MacDailyNews:

“Apple Inc. acquired online music company Lala Media Inc., possibly signaling an expansion of the computer giant’s music strategy,” Ethan Smith and Yukari Iwatani Kane report for The Wall Street Journal.

Terms of the deal were not available, but there’s this:

“One person with knowledge of the deal, but who was not authorized to discuss it, said that the negotiations originated when Lala executives concluded that their prospects for turning a profit in the short term were dim and initiated discussions with Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president in charge of iTunes,” Brad Stone reports for the New York Times. “This person said Apple would primarily be buying Lala’s engineers, including its energetic co-founder Bill Nguyen, and their experience with cloud-based music services.

(Emphasis mine)

Great.

This Could Be Good If

1) Apple uses it to start their own cloud-based music streaming service complete with iPhone app and allows Lala.com users (like me) to transfer all their purchases to the new service. This scenario seems most likely if Apple is indeed basically just buying Lala’s engineers. Of course, the “be good” part of this hinges on Apple letting people move their purchases to the new service. Of course, people who don’t already use Lala won’t give a shit, and Apply might not care enough about the current users of Lala (who are probably a tiny minority of music listeners) to make this sort of transfer available.

2) Apple starts adding their branding muscle to Lala.com, and adds integration with Lala to iTunes. I mean, the service is already set up and seems to be working pretty well. The music syncing app could use some work, but that seems like something that Apply could do pretty well. Then they could add their Genius power to Lala to make it even awesomer (and get people to buy even more music, since the web songs are only 10 cents).

3) Apple does anything as good as Lala without Effing it up. I’m sure there are other possible roadmaps that my feeble mind has yet to conjure into being. As long as Apple doesn’t rip the still beating heart from Lala and stomp on it (as Google has done with Oh So Many Startups), then, it should be okay.

kano_ripping-heart-out_mortal-kombat

Mobile + Cloud = Magic … Right Now!

It’s funny that the these two posts both appeared on TechCrunch just yesterday…

First: Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt on the Magical Potential of Mobile Cloud. I will re-blockquote:

The mobile platforms, Android and the others, are so powerful now that you can build client apps that do magical things that are connected with the cloud. This is I think the most visually obvious example of that…don’t limit your imagination to this set of problems. Anything where you can produce this phenomenal customer benefit when you have a mobile device broadly defined connected to the cloud….Obviously we like the price of free because the consumers like that as well and we can figure out ways to use advertising to pay for it.

The way he says it, he makes it sound like this is still a few years in coming… but then there’s this post about Lala.com’s iPhone app which was just submitted a few days ago, and basically does exactly what Schmidt was talking about: Use the mobile cloud to make magic happen.

I’ve already expounded on my love of Lala, and how I may never buy another mp3 again, and now that I’ll soon be able to (hopefully) listen to all my music on my iPhone from the cloud, why would I???? I can store a lot more music on Lala than I can on my iPhone, and at significantly lower cost!

It’s like I told my wife last night (talking about why I didn’t want anything more than watching a Bulls game for my birthday): I can get any DVD I want from Netflix, I can get any music I want on Lala, and I can get any book I want from the library. When you couple with that, the fact that I don’t really need any new clothes since I don’t even wear everything I own now, and the only thing that I really need for my birthday is more time.

time-flies-clock

Jay-Z is on fire, and so is Lala.com

So, I just got The Blueprint 3. It’s $4.99 on Lala.com, but only $3.99 on Amazon. I got it from Lala to support the little guy. I decided it was worth $5 after only the first 7 songs – two of which I’d already got the “web version” of on Lala. It’s that good.

But, after buying the MP3s, I discovered that there’s a Beta section in Lala, which – among other things – lets you scrobble tracks to Last.fm.

exclamation-point

I may never buy another MP3 again! Considering I can open a tab in Firefox, play songs on Lala.com using less RAM than iTunes (with much faster reaction time from the app), AND have them scrobbled to Last.fm… the only advantage that MP3s have is that I can put them on my iPhone… but I don’t really listen to music on my iPhone; I usually listen to audiobooks in the car or when I’m walking or whatever (and the audiobooks come from the Chicago Public Library via Overdrive download or imported Audio CD). Also, I could back up my 15 GB of music on my desktop computer (using Hamachi) and then have an extra 15 GB on my laptop hard drive (which I’m hoping would improve the read/write performance of my computer). And since it’s synced via the Lala Music Mover, I know that those backed up songs are going to be available on Lala.

So, that’s the interesting part of the tech stuff. I’m about to do one of those track-by-track album reviews right now (possibly my first ever, but certainly a copycheated idea; gotta keep up my copycheating cred to hold the belt).

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