Peter Kirn at Create Digital Music has reviewed the latest incarnation of lala.com that was recently released in beta as next.lala.com. As a longtime Lala user I agree with his conclusions, and find his idea of tiered music pricing and his comparison of lala with terrestrial radio to be appropriate. Too bad the radio-like features of next.lala.com aren’t exactly riveting. True, you can stream tons of music for free, but the streams are only on a per album basis. Once upon a time, an older version of lala.com allowed users to create and share playlists–essentially turning anyone into the DJ of their own radio station. I’d love to see this feature brought back, or even some relational music suggestions based on recent tracks played. In other words, what makes good radio good is that it’s curated (and what makes bad radio horrible is that it’s overly-curated…another story). The thrill of radio for me is that something great might come on next and sadly, next.lala.com doesn’t allow it. There’s not even a shuffle button. I’ll admit I’ve been having fun checking out albums on next.lala.com, but I can’t say the experience has been one of discovery. It’s more like visiting the reading room at the NY Public Library or the Library of Congress or the British Museum. You finally get to hold a book you’ve been looking for, and then the reading room closes and it’s time to give it back.
Speaking of giving things back, I’m glad to see CD trading hasn’t been thrown out on next.lala.com. I regularly get new music from lala by trading my older CDs for someone else’s. Yes, CD sales are down and may never recover–boo hoo. But right now seems like a great time to trade CDs because they’re suddenly perceived as less valuable while still quite usable and not yet so rare as to be collector’s items.