Open Letter to Bob Lefsetz: Enough About Spotify Already; Lala.com is Here NOW.

Lefsetz Bob, it took me a few days to give your "Spotify Guys" post the attention it deserves.  I hope the reply is still pertinent.

I don't disagree with anything you say about Spotify.  If you can get it, I guess, the service is great; it sounds like the founders have their hearts and minds in all the right places, and they are riding the tip of the spear that will ultimately bring down the "product" based music "industry" that was in place in the century-plus between "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and Napster. 

But they are not alone on that quest.  

Spotify may be great, but in the United States — the country that produces most of the music that the world wants to hear– Spotify is not generally available.  As you say, "…other than a handful of the connected, no one in America has Spotify, few even know what it is!"

So where is the love for Lala.com?  There's a service that is also riding the tip of the spear, altering behavior patterns and expanding the universe for creators and listeners alike.  But nobody ever talks about Lala.com, it's Spotify-this and Spotify-that even though you can't get it in this country and Lala is shifting the paradigm RIGHT FUCKING NOW.

To wit:

On Oct 8, 2009, at 11:12 PM, Bob Lefsetz wrote:

Daniel was focused on the rental issue. Needing to make purchase available too. I think that's bullshit. You can't listen to the hoi polloi. In America we rented movies on videotape, bought them on DVD and are now renting them again via Netflix and Redbox. Who says America is anti-rental? It's all about the user experience. And the Spotify user experience is so good, that you don't need to own once you've got it.

As you well know, Bob, that's the crux of the issue.  This "I want to own my music" mentality is doomed. 

What most people who "consume" recorded music don't get is that they never really "own" the music.  All you ever own is a limited license to listen to the music — in whatever format it has been delivered.  Until about 12 or 13 years ago the music was always delivered as a product — cylinder, vinyl disk, plastic wafer — which carried with it the presumption of "ownership" that the possession of products implies.  All that started to change when MP3s started flying around the Internet, and Napster drove the stake home.

When you purchased LPs or CDs, all you've ever really "owned" is the right to listen on demand.  And now the ability to listen on demand is shifting from your turntable, your CD player, your hard drive… to the cloud and browser. You don't need your own library or collection.  It is all being stored for you.  And the emphasis in that sentence is on the word 'all.'  It is ALL being stored for you. 

But you don't have to wait until maybe the end of this year or maybe the beginning of next year or whenever the stars align to get Spotify.  Lala.com is already delivering what Spotify promises.

Lala's catalog is about as deep as iTunes.  There are some holes in it, for sure.  And their existing business model is going to need some tweaking, no doubt.  But the way it works now, you can listen to anything in their 6- or 7- million track catalog in its entirety the first time for FREE.  Only when you want to hear it AGAIN do you have to pay for anything.  And then it's only a DIME a TRACK!  A whole CD for the cost of single iTunes download! 

Yes, what you are buying for that dime — or a buck for the whole CD — is the "web album" — access through your browser (and yes, you can "buy" 89c MP3 downloads if you insist in constraining your budget that way…).

I would ultimately prefer a nominal, flat-rate subscription service (I'll take the lifetime subscription, thank you very much, even though I'm almost 60…).  But one thing at a time.  What Lala offers now is a demonstration of the value of infinite "access" over  "ownership" that is necessarily limited to shelf space, hard-drive space, or budget.

Think of it this way:  next time you're in a Starbucks, and you see one of those little "free download" cards at the counter… take it home with you.  And log on to Lala.com.  And then, instead of downloading a single track for free, you can listen to the entire album for free.  Then you can really decide if this is somebody who's music you want to add to the soundtrack of your life.

You've also referenced Spotify's intention to incorporate "social networking" into its service.  Lala.com is already doing that, too.  You can find listeners with similar taste and easily post your finds to Facebook or Twitter.  I've been doing it for a few months now.  And I cannot tell you how much new music I'm finding as a consequence.

And, like Spotify, Lala has an iPhone app in beta, but that's all I can say about that…

So, Bob, why aren't you telling your readers to get on this service now?  Why are you telling them to wait for Spotify?  It's unbecoming of such an advocate as you to say "I'm connected, you can't have this…" when something so similar is so readily available NOW.

I'm surprised at how much of a shill I'm sounding like here.  I don't work for the company.  Hell, I can't even get them to return my e-mails.  But I'm going on about it here for good reason.  You, Bob Lefsetz, more than anybody I've encountered or read in the past year, grasp the import of the paradigm shift from ownership to access, from downloads to streaming.  But you continue to emphasize a service that is by and large not yet available in this country.

I'm not knocking Spotify, I'm sure it's great, but only if you can get it. But why not direct at least SOME attention to a service that is available now. So that your readers can begin to appreciate the possibilities that access affords over ownership.  So that they can begin — as you have — to disabuse themselves of this antiquated notion that they need to "own" the music that they listen to.

Music doesn't live in the player, whether it's disk hard drive.  It exists in the ear, and ultimately in the heart.  How it gets there is truly irrelevant.
What I hope your readers will learn — and join the vanguard of — is the idea that when they abandon the illusion of "ownership" what they get in exchange is access to the entire universe of recorded music. 

But that is only one side of the issue that now confronts us. Sooner rather than later, we need to  engage the discussion about what all this easy access for the listeners means for the creators.  What does it mean for recording artists  when I can listen to everything I want for some nominal amount?  How will these people support themselves when the value of a $15 CD is effectively reduced to pennies?   I can't go to all
their shows.  We need to start having that conversation now, too.

Whatever the economic consequences, that infinitely valuable trade-off is not available to the readers who wait patiently for Spotify.  It IS available now, they just have to log onto Lala.com and open an account.  If you do, please look for user "driver49" and friend me up. 

Thanks,

–PS

P.S. Is it true you are in Nashville this week at the IBEA.org conference?  Can I buy you lunch?  Or at least sneak me into your panel so I can hear what you've got to say….??



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Paul S