From My Mouth to Apple’s Ear
Back in September, I wrote an article which called for Apple to “Take iTunes to the Cloud.” Four months earlier, I wrote a related piece about Lala.com, a streaming music site. In both pieces I argued that Apple is missing a growing niche market by not bringing web streaming music to the iTunes Music Store.
Well, last Friday with the unexpected news that Apple Acquires Lala Music Service, it appeared that Steve Jobs and staff might have been reading my articles on AppleMatters.com. Did I call it or what?!
If you don’t know, Lala.com is a music streaming site that allows you to purchase websongs and albums at a very affordable price of .10 to .16 cents per song. You own these songs, but it’s in the form of streaming music from your Lala account. You can also purchase the MP3 versions of songs for about the same price or less than they cost on the iTunes Music Store. Unlike the iTunes store, you can also sample entire songs once, instead of just thirty-seconds worth, before you decide to make a purchase. After the first listen, you can play the songs again for thirty-seconds.
If you regularly listen to your music on your computer, it’s a no-brainer to purchase streaming websongs. I’ve purchased entire jazz albums on Lala for as little .50 cents. After I joined the site back in July, I have made only a few iTunes music purchases.
Apple Heading off Competition with Spotify.com?
So what does the supposed Apple acquisition mean and why now? Well, my guess is that if Apple wasn’t influenced by my articles, it does know about the popularity of the Sweden-based peer-to-peer music streaming service, Spotify.com. The site has not come to the States, but numerous people have been looking forward to its expansion. Read “Spotify, An Alternative to Music Piracy," to find out more about it.
This acquisition also raises the question about the future of MP3 songs. Will more people make websong purchases than download more expensive MP3s? It’s hard to know. My daughter, for example, isn't excited about Lala.com because she can’t listen to the music on her iPod. When she wants to listen to music beyond her Nano she streams music from YouTube for free, as I would guess many teens do.
I, her father, on the other hand, listen to my Lala songs on my iPhone using both Airfoil, a audio streaming iPhone app, and the beta un-released version of Lala.com’s iPhone application. Granted, I can’t listen to streaming music very well in my car, but for everywhere else I’m able hear it practically buffer-free. So for a listener like me, it works well.
Issues of Privacy and Ownership
However, fellow AppleMatters.com writer, Chris Seibold, raises concerns about privacy and data loss. He writes, "Having all your music (and videos) in the cloud could be very convenient for consumers. You worry about privacy for the important stuff, but do you care about privacy for that copy of "We Built this City" by Starship? Of course you do, if people found out you listened to that stuff…egads."
On the other hand, he writes, “Bad taste in music aside, it would be nice if you didn't have to store all your music on your iPhone. It would be nifty if you could buy a movie and play it on your Apple TV, iPhone or Mac without having to store it all somewhere. I suspect this is what the purchase is all about. In the future being able to tell your hard drive from storage in a far off place will be more difficult. The purchase of Lala opens up the possibility that, when it comes to personal media, you'll never have to be without it. ”
Hard Drives vs. the Clouds
I concur with Chris on this last point. My iTunes library is currently at 119.54 gigabytes, stored on an external hard drive and backed up on two additional drives; one back-up by Time Machine and another one I update occasionally on a smaller drive. I've nearly lost my iTunes library at least two times in the past five years, so backing up is pure insurance for me. Anyway, managing and storing this much data can take a toll on your computer hardware. So having songs stored off your computer and in the cloud could be added assurance for some users, while others might rightly be concerned about a company, even Apple, folding up and taking all one's purchased content with it.
For me, however, in this current economy, the cheaper price of streaming music and the ability to store it in the cloud far out ways my concerns about privacy or the loss of content.
Digital Rights Management
However, this road that Apple is about to pave will open up more questions about digital rights management: for example, the right to take your purchased web content to another service provider. What happens when another site like Lala.com comes along and you want to switch, because it offers better services? Are your songs stuck on Lala.com?
And finally, as Chris writes, what is the benefit of Apple's purchase of Lala? Sure, iTunes has a little less competition, but since every contender to iTunes has failed it seems unlikely that Apple is buying Lala to get rid of a competitor.
Well, like I said in my previous article: for Apple to remain a leading contender in the music download industry, it can't just keep adding bells and whistles to its iTunes application and Internet storefront. It needs to continue to expand what can be done with digital content, including meeting the growing demand to access content conveniently in the clouds.