I suspect we'll be hearing quite a bit about the Google+Lala.com alliance that is supposed to be officially announced sometime today. In the meantime, there are other angles on the Lala story that warrant some attention.
Yesterday Ars Technica offered up a nice recap of how Lala.com reorganized itself over the past several years to stand now at the threshold of game-changing status by virtue of its pending alliance with Google. But a bigger story lies in what is pending for the iPhone.
It appears the cloak of secrecy is being pulled back from the iPhone app that Lala.com has had in beta-testing for a couple of weeks now. And the Associated Press is reporting that the app will be touted as the tool that sends MP3 downloading into the ash-heap of digital music delivery:
"There's no downloading, no links to click on, it's just there," said Lala co-founder Bill Nguyen, who described the concept as the start of "the end of the MP3."
The advantage of having songs in MP3 files is that they can be downloaded and played on a variety of devices and computers. Meanwhile, streaming services pump music directly to a computer or mobile device, but not in a form that the user can store and play any time, even while offline.
Lala's iPhone app aims to get around that downside of streaming while taking advantage of the device's power as a music player (it has an iPod inside it, after all) and undercutting the prices charged on iTunes, where songs generally cost 69 cents to $1.29.
Once users pay 10 cents to have a song streamed from Lala, they can hear the track essentially any time. The songs that a user listens to most often in the app or designates as favorites are automatically loaded in the phone's memory, which is the step that allows them to be heard any time, even out of cell phone range.
That last provision sounds like something of a hybrid, and is not unlike what is already being attributed to the iPhone app for Spotify. That capability at least allows for the possibility that you're not always going to have access to decent wireless broadband (as I did not over the past five days in the West Carolina mountains; not even downtown Asheville, NC had decent 3G service. What's up with that??).
But based on my own experience, I don't think what Mr. Nguyen suggests is an exaggeration at all. Lala.com — especially once it gets on the iPhone — is a potential game changer, because it has the potential to get users accustomed to the idea that they don't need to "own" the music they want to listen to.
This is all great for us as end-users, but I still want to know what is going to happen to the already crumbling economics of the music business when "a dime a track" becomes the norm.
If getting on board with paid-for downloads was the light at the end of digital music tunnel, then Lala.com's dime-a-track model on the iPhone is the locomotive behind the light.
Oh, Garth Brooks is just gonna have a heart palpitating seizure when he starts getting wind of this news.