Has Apple killed off indie music service Lala.com?

Has Apple killed off indie music service Lala.com?

Summary: Last year at this time, I compared six music services to iTunes and came away most impressed by an indie upstart called Lala. Its founders cashed out last December, selling the company to Apple for an undisclosed price. And since then? Lala's innovation has stalled. Or, more accurately, it's shifted into reverse with at least one key feature removed and development apparently frozen. What happened?

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Update 30-April: It's official: Apple shuts down Lala music service.

So long, Lala, it was nice to know you.

Last year at this time, I compared six music services to iTunes and came away most impressed by a tiny company called Lala. (I was still impressed in this follow-up post six months later.)

Lala was an indie upstart in April 2009, with 30 employees (all but five of them writing code). They had a unique business model—one insider told me, "We want to be a cloud music app"—and a high-octane software development cycle that had the company releasing new versions of its web-based client every two to three weeks.

Lala's founders cashed out last December, selling the company to Apple for an undisclosed price. And since then? Lala's innovation has stalled. Or, more accurately, it's shifted into reverse. At least one key feature has been removed, the much-anticipated iPhone app has been scuttled, and support has turned sluggish.

Lala's signature feature when I looked at it a year ago was its Music Mover app, which allowed you to build a music collection in the cloud. If the program matched a tune in your collection to one in the Lala catalog, your account was given the right to stream that tune on-demand to any PC using a web browser. If Music Mover couldn't find the file, you were given the option to upload it. Although others have tried this business model in the past, Lala was the first one that did it with signed contracts from all the major labels. (Interestingly, reports I've read suggest that those agreements are not transferable to Apple. If that's true, it means that Lala's streaming rights can't be easily integrated into the iTunes player or store.)

The Lala Help page still touts this feature: "Music Mover will add the music you own to your Lala collection for free if it can be matched against our legally licensed catalog.  For music that is not matched you will need to use the Manual Uploader available from your collection view."

But that text is out of date. The upload option vanished in March of this year. I noticed the change by accident, when I needed to install Music Mover on a new PC and saw this notice on Lala's web site:

I asked my contacts at Lala for more details on the "technical issues" that led them to disable this feature and on why and when this decision was made. I also asked if someone was willing to talk to me about he future of Lala. They bounced me to Apple PR, which gave me this crisp response after a couple days of exchanging phone calls and e-mail messages:

We don't have a comment beyond the language that was posted on Lala in January addressing the MusicMover change.

So today, unlike a year ago, Music Mover will credit you with streaming rights only for tracks in your collection that it can match perfectly to its catalog. That matching process takes a long time but seems to work well enough. It succeeded for two albums that I bought recently as downloads from eMusic and the Zune Marketplace and for tracks I ripped from a newly purchased CD. Unfortunately, it failed for some obscure but legally downloaded recordings that aren't in the Lala catalog.

The error message complained about "format or metadata problems." The upshot? Music Mover can no longer faithfully replicate your entire music collection to the cloud.

The pay-to-play option is still available from Lala. For 10 cents a track—a buck or two an album—you can buy the rights to stream that track but not download or burn it; the dime is credited to the purchase price if you decide to buy the track later.

Next page: Where's the Lala iPhone app? -->

 

<--Previous page

The long-awaited Lala iPhone app has also gone missing. It was previewed in an "exclusive first look" on TechCrunch in March 2009, and when I spoke with Lala in April 2009, I was told the iPhone app was nearly complete. A follow-up story at TechCrunch last October was titled "It's almost here." Some beta testers apparently received access to an iPhone app, but a post from the administrator of Lala's support forums on February 21 confirmed that that program is closed; no one at Lala or Apple has any official comment on its status. From here, it looks like the Apple deal derailed plans to make an iPhone app available.

Meanwhile, even the Music Mover app is having problems. Last month, when I tried to install the Music Mover app on a PC here, I was greeted with an error message. A search of Lala's support forums told me I wasn't alone. I opened a report ticket and sent an e-mail to support. It took four days to get this response:

We changed a setting in your account that should allow you to install the Music Mover. Let us know if you still have problems.

That allowed me to complete the installation, but it didn't fix the long-term problem, as I discovered a few minutes ago when I tried to install Music Mover on a Mac:

That's the exact same error message I received last month on Windows 7. I reopened the support ticket and this time received an immediate response:

Essentially we allow up to 3 computers to be registered with Music Mover per one account.  As people change computers or re-install software we sometimes have to reset the profile to make sure you can re-install to a new computer.

None of this is good news for anyone who was counting on Lala to shake up the online music business. In fact, every indication is that Lala is on life support, with development frozen, support cut to the bare minimum, and promotion suspended.

So why did Apple buy Lala? Apple has declined to comment despite repeated requests, so I can only speculate. It might have been because they wanted the developer talent, or because they wanted to slow down Lala's momentum and keep a competitor like Microsoft from buying the company. But given the non-portability of Lala's contracts and the robust growth of the iTunes Store, it's highly unlikely that Apple is going to do anything to discourage iPod/iPhone/iPad owners from purchasing tunes.

Topics: Apple, Apps, Hardware, Mobility

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45 comments
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  • Probably not

    I would dare to say it's still popular as Google
    allows for song previews via lala when a search
    result matches a Lala database item. In addition I
    use it every day in my office and anywhere else I
    want access to my music - by the way it matched
    every song I own.
    sammysamcore
    • How long will that last?

      Google and Apple aren't exactly BFFs these days.
      Ed Bott
      • As long as there are $$$ to be made.

        Business is business.

        So I wonder if the $ Billion data centre Apple is building in North Carolina
        will have anything to do with Lala.

        Apple is probably working on something now and will release details
        when it suits them,
        hill60
  • RE: Has Apple killed off indie music service Lala.com?

    I can see why Apple might kill the off Lala. Apple is buying the business not the technology. If a Nerd-core, Furry, rapper Tiger I know can set up a store to sell his songs on I-tunes perhaps Lala is redundant.
    Richardbz
  • RE: Has Apple killed off indie music service Lala.com?

    It is my understanding that Apple outbid Google for Lala.How else could they prevent a great free app from damaging revenues from their store. It is sort of mind boggling to suggest that they needed to hire Lala's talented personnel. I assume anything that Apple does not do hardware wise or software wise, it does so for a reason,other than the shortcomings of its own personnel.
    wmcoverdale
  • RE: Has Apple killed off indie music service Lala.com?

    Thank goodness we live in a country where laissez-faire capitalism is still extant. For those who complain about Apple's profits, the oil companies ripping us off, or other such illogical musings, they ought to ask themselves who really owns these companies and supports them: The answer is that private individuals own them through the stock market and actually force public companies to do whatever it takes to increase profits. Jobs or Gates, et al, do not need the cash. (Jobs makes a $1 a year, I believe, and Gates is giving away 90% of his earnings and savings.) So, when you complain about APPL or MSFT, it's the investors that should be held accountable. It is fortunate, however, that making an HONEST profit is not yet against the law. Don't like Apple's methods of doing business? Don't buy its products. It is a fact that somebody likes Apple, a company with gross revenues of more than $240 billion annually. And its stock continues to ascend.
    palavering
    • Where do you see that?

      Where in this post do you see "complaint about Apple's profits"? Or about "oil companies ripping us off"?
      Ed Bott
      • Earlier it was "Read my lips", Now it is

        " Read my mind". Having a dual membership of the Church of Jobs and the Church of Rand, I just know that your post reeks of jealousy and irrational hatred against Apple and real rational freedom.
        nilotpal_c
        • Wow

          Mike Cox, is that you?
          Ed Bott
          • Ed, ignore them...

            they're not worth it.
            rjohn05
          • Ed, I never even heard of Lala.com...

            ...until you mentioned them here. That's how insignificant they were.
            ubiquitous one
    • More capitalism without bounds

      [i]Thank goodness we live in a country where laissez-faire capitalism is still extant.[/i]

      Laissez-faire ha! Only now subverted by multi-national corporations that place no allegiance whatsoever to the people or places from where these institutions sprung! The present day variant of "laissez-faire" is being spun around your head like a hypnotic potion from ages long past.

      [i]For those who complain about Apple's profits, the oil companies ripping us off, or other such illogical musings, they ought to ask themselves who really owns these companies and supports them: The answer is that private individuals own them through the stock market and actually force public companies to do whatever it takes to increase profits. [/i]

      These companies will do precisely what they choose to do, and they don't need dime-a-dozen stockholders budding in. The only thing that drives them is an insatiable lust to line their pockets. If they crash and burn through mismanagement or outright crookedness, like all those Wall Street fronts-for-thievery, tough luck to the Joe Blow stockholders and gullible retirees. The gladbags at the top walk away with millions just the same, with but a tiny percentage ever facing legal retribution.

      [i]Jobs or Gates, et al, do not need the cash. (Jobs makes a $1 a year, I believe, and Gates is giving away 90% of his earnings and savings.) [/i]

      Of course not! Now that these favored benevolents have morphed into latter-day philanthropists and humanitarians! How much loot can one realistically shovel away? Is there a vault big enough to even hold it? One has to wonder with the billions upon billions they've raked into their private accounts, enough to buy many countries piecemeal!

      It's been a good ol' gorging fest unlike any other seen around the world, where the disparity between top execs and low line workers has grown to insanely disparate margins, far exceeding that of only a few generations back here in the country. There's your capitalism without bounds heroes! What was once lauded as "free enterprise" in America has been usurped and displaced by capitalistic greed and usury.

      [i]So, when you complain about APPL or MSFT, it's the investors that should be held accountable.[/i]

      Ah yes, a novel approach I must say, and a perfect circumvent for the boys at the top. Let's blame, then bend over, Joe and Jane America, and slap their butts good for buying into the capitalists' con games. Only take a inside tip: the biggest investors get to play by separate rules.

      [i]It is fortunate, however, that making an HONEST profit is not yet against the law. [/i]

      If the kinds of personal profits that corporate American and multi-national execs make these days hasn't reached the level of obscene, I don't know what that word was allowed into the language for. If that's "honesty" to you, I got a creaky, vermin ridden bridge I'd love to sell ya.

      You know, if all these lootmeisters spun just a TINY portion of their over-inflated wealth back into company-sponsored training centers or vocational alliances, or even paid experienced hands what they're worth [*gasp*] considering what the big shots at the top rake in, there wouldn't be the "need" to turn to dirt cheap labor in foreign places to do so much of their non-elitist work.

      Nor the "need" to ship every promising enterprise and industry off our own shores, to and for the profit of others! Since when does this country owe the rest of the world favors over its own, and how long can it go own skewing things like this? Few others are playing by such rules, not to the insane extent we do. As it stands, only the rich are getting richer; the pipes that supposed to trickle it down are all leaking or busted.

      [i]Don't like Apple's methods of doing business? Don't buy its products. It is a fact that somebody likes Apple, a company with gross revenues of more than $240 billion annually. And its stock continues to ascend.[/i]

      You got one thing right. Congrats smarty. ;)
      klumper
      • Amen klumper

        You've hit the nail on the head!!!
        rgrrogue
    • correction

      apple's revenue will be around 54 bn this year. not 240 bn.
      you are probably referring to market capitalization, which is around 223
      bn.
      bannedfromzdnetagain
      • Thanks

        I was going to point that out also. If he does not know the difference between market cap and revenue, we can safely ignore his rants.
        Economister
  • Long live LALA

    As long as I can listen to any song of my choice once and buy good-quality recordings for $0.10 a pop to stream at home and work I am okay. AFAIK none of these other services have such a consumer-centric model. Other than that just hoping it's not written in the user agreements that they can take my tunes or they don't start turning servers off or what not.

    I wasn't crazy about Music Mover to be honest now most people's collections can fit on their phones at 256kb MP3 - cloud storage of your mp3s did not seem like their killer app to me.
    cmbrm
  • short answer to your sensationalist bs headline

    no.

    maybe they took off a feature. maybe not really. maybe they
    have some plans. (music announcements in september?)
    anyhow, they did not kill lala. (what was your headline again?)
    it is still there.

    please crawl back to your hole and write about the softies. oh
    sorry, that was mary-jo. you probably call them redmondians.
    bannedfromzdnetagain
    • Um

      Follow the links...

      On October 28, TechCrunch said "Lala for the iPhone ... was just submitted to Apple for approval.... Suffice to say, it works very well now, and is sure to be a hit among Lala users."

      Darn. Maybe in September, you say? Nearly a year after it was originally submitted? Sweet!
      Ed Bott
      • headline

        well, last time i checked, lala.com was still there. why not change your
        headline to something more reasonable like "apple changes a feature of
        lala"? o wait, of course, no hits then.

        ok, the app. you mean apple's was so terrified by the prospects of
        another streaming upstart (which one is it? no. 173 in a long devastating
        row of failures over the last 10 years?) that they spent millions to take the
        technology off the market? when did apple ever do that?

        if they were terrified they would have simply rejected the app, instead
        they bought the company.

        isn't it more reasonable to suspect that apple has plans with it?
        bannedfromzdnetagain
      • re: Um

        You mean you are basing one of your observations on an article that
        stated that Lala submitted the app for approval? Well, I can put together
        an article that states they did not submit the app.

        I just can't believe that you have no facts that say they actually did
        submit the app and now you are complaining that the app does not exist.
        As far as I am concerned, it never existed.

        Spend some time doing your own investigation instead of reading
        something on the Internet and "knowing" it must be true!
        fizzmaster