Digital Music

Ian Rogers Is Excited Apple Bought Lala, But I’m Not

image from www.dog-muzzle.com One of music tech's most innovative players has slipped behind Steve Jobs' iron curtain.

Apple confirmed on Sunday that it had bought Lala. Sources close to the deal suggest a number of reasons for the purchase including Lala's bright engineers, its micro-payment system, and its music in the cloud technology.

Whatever the reasons behind Apple's purchase, it should be viewed through the lens of an increasingly consolidated digital music space, as well as, a broadening of Apple's influence on the music industry.

But while he admits the purchase shifts the competitive landscape, Topspin's Ian Rogers says that "at a very high level as a music fan this makes me very excited about the future ubiquitousness of music". Rogers has strong praise for Lala's simple and shareable "in the cloud" home for music, as well as, it's take on streaming.

Should we be happy that Apple still cares about music?

Ian Rogers is, however, most excited that Apple isn't abandoning music. "I always thought Apple would move up-market away from music, into movies and living room apps in general", Rogers writes on his Fistfulayen blog. "But it appears they are going to move up-market "with" music…the entrepreneur and music business person in me is worried about Apple’s dominance and intends to work with Apple to make sure the future of music isn’t available solely via Apple hardware and services. But the music fan in me is excited to think about a beautiful experience in my living room and car where all music is available all the time and easy to share legally, without syncing and managing files."

Does Apple ever play nice?

The problem with Ian's argument isn't that Apple doesn't "work with" anybody. Can anyone remember the last time that Apple played nice a minute before the marketplace forced it to? How long was it between Steve Job's heralded declaration that all music should be free of copy protection and when the majority of iTunes tracks were sold without DRM? Who told artists that album only sales were not an option and dragged their feet on variable pricing? 

With its purchase of Lala, Apple has just taken one of the more innovative companies in music tech and put it and its bright creators behind its iron curtain.  What happens next will only benefit Apple 1st, the consumer 2nd and music and the music industry a very distant 3rd. What happens next will  also sometimes delight the fan. But think about how much more could have been created if the curtain had never been drawn or if Google or Facebook were Lala's new owner. Bruce Houghton

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19 Comments

  1. I’ve been using Lala for about six months and have been turning on every friend I have to it. I would always describe it to them as “iTunes meets the internet meets Facebook.” Whether or not that was an appropriate description or not isn’t important- they signed up and after a few days of using it, figured it out.
    For as long as I’ve been using it, I’ve said “this is where music is headed: the cloud,” just like everybody else. We all know they’ve completed their iPhone app and its been pending review in the app store (I guess the reason it hasn’t been released yet is because of the talks Apple and Lala have been in). But what about their Blackberry app?
    This is what scares me about Apple buying them. At the end of the day, I don’t care who owns Lala or who Apple buys, I just want both my hardware and software to work correctly (phone, computer, etc) and I want to have the same kind of access as people with iPhones (asking a lot, I know). With Lala’s blackberry app, the playing field was finally going to be leveled, at least a little bit.
    If Apple screws me out of a Blackberry app with Lala, I, along with a lot of other people, are going to very, VERY upset.

  2. Lala.com has the contracts with rightsholders for one free sample listen before reverting to 30sec samples aka “The First Hit is Free” model.
    I bet contracts like this are in iTunes future.

  3. This could have been apple taking a shot at Google and Myspace. With the acquisition, aapl is getting in through the back door with goog’s music integration. Notice aapl did this right after myspace’s acquisition of ilike — another move that timed perfectly with google’s music integration.
    Beyond the above reason, Lala has been pretty killer and innovative at biz dev + partnerships. I think aapl wanted to get Lala’s team. I doubt appl would have acquired lala for their technology when appl has the same capabilities in a different iteration. Granted Lala does have a clean UI – but itunes has the ultimate UI. It also couldn’t have been for their licensing deals, as appl (obviously) has more leverage with majors than lala.

  4. What worries me is that the innovation that is opening up the music industry is being sold back to the ones that want to keep it closed. The reason they (Apple, Myspace, whoever) are buying these companies is because they need their dynamic that they bring to the industry or because it addresses a chink in their armor. It could be argued that companies like Apple will successfully intergrate these acquistions for the good but so what. As a music business person it worries me that the industry will be a bunch of companies that are more interested in the tech and leverage the music as the draw, and to date no one and I mean no one has said how this effects the artists. The are getting reamed even more than they are used to. I thought it was fight the power not be innovative and sell out to the power, and give the same wall building, power and money hungry exploiters the ability to close the fans out once again and tell us what and how we are going to get for our money.

  5. In situations like this, I find it more interesting to consider why people are selling, rather than why they are buying.
    It looks to me like the entire Internet business landscape is set on “concentration” by default. Whenever someone comes up with an attractive service, it seems they’re selling it to a big player within a year or two.
    I don’t know much about Lala (even though my music is on there, somewhere…), but from what I’ve read about their business model on Billboard.biz today, I like the way they think. I suspect, however, that the returns on their business aren’t staggering, if they were willing to sell.
    I really would like to see someone come up with a sustainable (legal) digital music business for a change. I’m worried that until someone does, competition on the Internet will be decreasing rather than increasing.
    On a different note, I’m happy that Google didn’t buy Lala. The Mountain View lads have a poor record of respecting creators’ rights. One thing I do not expect Apple to do is decide that they don’t need to pay licensing fees until someone sues them.

  6. you are spot on Keith; I’ve been trying to bring up this point amongst musicians for a while now. We can all agree that labels have not always treated artists how they should, but at the end of the day their business is selling music; what evidence do we have that Tech giants will give artists any better treatment? We know the big money lies in the hardware and software; the music is of secondary importance; in fact, music that is cheaper/free more plentiful probably sells more hardware. Unfortunately if we continue down the path we are on, utimately artists will just be handing over their rights to a different set of corporations…this doesn’t seem like forward progress to me.

  7. I’m sorry, I must disagree with most of this.
    Was it not the labels who refused to strike a deal with Napster – which essentially would have become an iTunes, a place to legally download for an agreed fee? I may add, at probably the most crucial point of the music industry in the last few decades.
    Was it not the labels (and actually not iTunes) that refused to release music without DRM? (If a recall correctly, only much later did the major labels rethink this – and then THEY chose to give DRM free to only Amazon for a substantial period, in an attempt to level the playing field and Amazon’s DL market share against iTunes). They then later allowed iTunes to release DRM free, something that iTunes had wanted for quite some time.
    Sure, iTunes holds the overwhelming majority of downloads percentage wise. And this scares many of you as it smells like the recent past of major gatekeepers and the like. But let’s not forget how much revenue Apple has created for *artists* in this digital age. iTunes may have very well been the first and crucial step in ‘monetising’ (I hate using this word but…) music in the digital era. For EVERYONE.
    iTunes has no problems allowing Indie artists with – quite frankly – often subpar recordings into their data base, for sale all around the WORLD for a very small sum of money.
    When would a major label with a major distribution partnership have allowed this?
    I feel this is very positive for musicians. Unless you’re in the hardware game (Phones, mp3 players, portable game devices) there is no real threat here.
    There are many other services, and Apple is not stopping you from using them. They’re just making it far more enticing to use their services and hardware. And you know what? That’s business. Good business.

  8. Matt what you said in you statement is the point you are missing. ” Unless you’re in the hardware game…there is no real threat here.” That’s exactly what Apple IS in, not the music business. They are smart over at Apple and they see the shift from downloads to the cloud. The have an amazing platform, regardless of their strict and sometimes insane control over it, and they know that. In order to remain relevant the next logical step is to move to the cloud as well if not at least be in the position to. So what I am saying is that you can say Apple has done this and that for artists but Apple is in it for Apple plain and simple.
    Further more Apple’s loyalty is to the labels(to a point) not the artists. Why because Apple makes $600 mill after taking their .33 cents per song doing nothing but letting the labels sell their music. It’s a good game plan because the labels are doing all the heavy lifting. So why not let indies on its only more content that they can leech off of and collect a few more bucks Apple doesn’t care if any of these labels(major or indie) fail or survive. With that said they really don’t care about whether the artists do. “That’s the labels problem” would be there stance even if they would never come out and say it. And there in lies my arguement.
    The labels are failing and its no secret. All these companies(iLike, Lala, Spotify) are bringing innovation to an industry that desperately needs it. And that innovation and technology is also bringing down the very same walls that fueled the very same greed that is choking the industry to death now. I would like to see that innovation continue not be sold off to a major corporation that uses that same tech to ressurrect those same walls. Like they are doing with Vevo launching this month or like Google has done with Lala in its new Google music search that places Lala at the top while others get shoved down the list(the new payola but that’s another topic). Then Apple goes and buys Lala. We have been there and done that. Rhapsody, Spotify, and any others that hope to capitalize off of Apple’s marketing genius and coattails work for Apple, period. Why? Because they are all unproven business models and Apple’s IS proven AND they own the hardware. And finally it has been proven time and time again that indie WORKS! I just want to see a company that holds on long enough to make a business model work with all this new tech and truely makes this industry an open and free market without selling out because they care about the music and the culture as much as the tech.

  9. Matt what you said in you statement is the point you are missing. ” Unless you’re in the hardware game…there is no real threat here.” That’s exactly what Apple IS in, not the music business. They are smart over at Apple and they see the shift from downloads to the cloud. The have an amazing platform, regardless of their strict and sometimes insane control over it, and they know that. In order to remain relevant the next logical step is to move to the cloud as well if not at least be in the position to. So what I am saying is that you can say Apple has done this and that for artists but Apple is in it for Apple plain and simple.
    Further more Apple’s loyalty is to the labels(to a point) not the artists. Why because Apple makes $600 mill after taking their .33 cents per song doing nothing but letting the labels sell their music. It’s a good game plan because the labels are doing all the heavy lifting. So why not let indies on its only more content that they can leech off of and collect a few more bucks Apple doesn’t care if any of these labels(major or indie) fail or survive. With that said they really don’t care about whether the artists do. “That’s the labels problem” would be there stance even if they would never come out and say it. And there in lies my arguement.
    The labels are failing and its no secret. All these companies(iLike, Lala, Spotify) are bringing innovation to an industry that desperately needs it. And that innovation and technology is also bringing down the very same walls that fueled the very same greed that is choking the industry to death now. I would like to see that innovation continue not be sold off to a major corporation that uses that same tech to ressurrect those same walls. Like they are doing with Vevo launching this month or like Google has done with Lala in its new Google music search that places Lala at the top while others get shoved down the list(the new payola but that’s another topic). Then Apple goes and buys Lala. We have been there and done that. Rhapsody, Spotify, and any others that hope to capitalize off of Apple’s marketing genius and coattails work for Apple, period. Why? Because they are all unproven business models and Apple’s IS proven AND they own the hardware. And finally it has been proven time and time again that indie WORKS! I just want to see a company that holds on long enough to make a business model work with all this new tech and truely makes this industry an open and free market without selling out because they care about the music and the culture as much as the tech.

  10. Ian Rogers is excited because there is another opportunity to scam people with his dumb ass ‘platform widget’.
    And Yes anyone who believe Apple cares about music is braindead.

  11. Keith, I think you’ve missed my point entirely (perhaps I wasn’t clear). I agree with most of the points you made.
    What I am disagreeing with are these preconceived, ‘indie’-centric notions that any dominant corporate, such as Apple, is looking to strangle the music industry to death.
    I certainly don’t question that “Apple is in it for Apple”. Whether Apple really ‘cares’ for music is entirely irrelevant. And to be honest, it is sentimental wish-wash.
    Houghton says:
    “What happens next will only benefit Apple 1st, the consumer 2nd and music and the music industry a *very distant 3rd*.”
    This is not really the case. Let’s take the iPod as an example. Apple wants to sell iPods. Apple needs its consumers to be satisfied for their products to sell. We all know about the ‘long-tail’ and consumers having increasingly different and eclectic tastes. So, Apple requires a huge catalogue of music (on iTunes), where the consumer can find anything he/she wants. Consequently, it is extremely easy for ANY individual to have their music distributed by the *largest digital music distributor in the world*: yes, Apple – corporate fiend – allows even your uninspiring and dreadfully engineered song to be sold to anyone using their device and/or software on the planet.
    Apple promotes and sells more iPods, the catalogue of music is increasingly diversified to satisfy consumer’s needs (making for a far more competitive and level playing field within the music industry), more people buy music thus more artists sell music. How is this not beneficial to the Music Industry? The iPod’s success is entirely dependent on the sale of music to be successful. Or is the Music Industry not concerned with selling music?
    The relationship between consumer, Apple (in this instance), and the Music Industry is mutually beneficial.

  12. Keith, I think you’ve missed my point entirely (perhaps I wasn’t clear). I agree with most of the points you made.
    What I am disagreeing with are these preconceived, ‘indie’-centric notions that any dominant corporate, such as Apple, is looking to strangle the music industry to death.
    I certainly don’t question that “Apple is in it for Apple”. Whether Apple really ‘cares’ for music is entirely irrelevant. And to be honest, it is sentimental wish-wash.
    Houghton says:
    “What happens next will only benefit Apple 1st, the consumer 2nd and music and the music industry a *very distant 3rd*.”
    This is not really the case. Let’s take the iPod as an example. Apple wants to sell iPods. Apple needs its consumers to be satisfied for their products to sell. We all know about the ‘long-tail’ and consumers having increasingly different and eclectic tastes. So, Apple requires a huge catalogue of music (on iTunes), where the consumer can find anything he/she wants. Consequently, it is extremely easy for ANY individual to have their music distributed by the *largest digital music distributor in the world*: yes, Apple – corporate fiend – allows even your uninspiring and dreadfully engineered song to be sold to anyone using their device and/or software on the planet.
    Apple promotes and sells more iPods, the catalogue of music is increasingly diversified to satisfy consumer’s needs (making for a far more competitive and level playing field within the music industry), more people buy music thus more artists sell music. How is this not beneficial to the Music Industry? The iPod’s success is entirely dependent on the sale of music to be successful. Or is the Music Industry not concerned with selling music?
    The relationship between consumer, Apple (in this instance), and the Music Industry is mutually beneficial.

  13. Hi Bruce,
    I don’t disagree with you at all. I actually think your summary is correct: whatever they do will benefit Apple first, consumer second, and music biz a distant third.
    I was being intentionally over-optimistic in my post and here’s where that comes from: I remember in 2000/2001 when we were post-Napster but pre-iTunes, things seemed pretty dire. MP3s were easy to come by but all ways to buy digital music (Liquid Audio, Mjuice, WMA) were terrible experiences and consumers weren’t having it. Pressplay and MusicNet appeared, each with very limited catalogs. We felt what was coming but couldn’t see how anyone could get the labels to agree to anything remotely sane. This may seem over-dramatic but I remember a feeling of music being less culturally relevant. I remember looking at my ten year-old daughter and realizing she’d rather spend her allowance on video games or DVDs, and when you add all the options she has for her attention to a flailing industry, I was just imagining music itself becoming niche relative to other entertainment. When iTunes/iPod came along, from the consumer perspective, it felt like a gust of fresh air. They got the labels to agree to something which felt good to consumers, built beautiful devices, did incredible marketing, music was simple and sexy again. White earphones were everywhere.
    There was a lot of distance between Windows Media + Diamond Rio and the course Apple plotted for us. Imagine if Apple hadn’t jumped in and Windows Media or Liquid Audio + Diamond Rio was what we lived the last 10 years with. I’m not sure if that’s meaningful to you but I worked closely with those technologies and from my perspective this would have been very ugly. I’m guessing we’d actually be in a far *worse* place from a piracy perspective if Apple hadn’t made it at least *convenient*.
    Remember I helped with Winamp and spent years of my life building a failed iTunes competitor (on top of Windows Media and MusicNet) at Yahoo!. I know as well as anyone all the reasons to dislike Apple. My post was really an admission that while I know all those things and don’t disagree with all the reasons to be up in arms about this, as a music consumer who likes shiny things as much as the average Engadget reader there’s a certain excitement to this coming age of connected music and I’m happy to know Apple is going to keep doing what they do in our competitive space.
    Yes of course they are a competitive corporation and are going to put their shareholders above all else. But I appreciate what they’ve done. When building Yahoo! Music Engine I had every single non-iPod device, Creative, iRiver, Samsung, Toshiba, and SanDisk. I wanted desperately to love them. When we shut down Yahoo!’s subscription service I broke down and bought an iPod. It was a huge admission of defeat. I had engraved on the back of the iPod: “Celebrating the death of Janus, September 2007”. Janus was the code name for Microsoft’s DRM platform which I’d just spent three years of my life fighting with. The iPod worked. The ecosystem we built did not.
    When I was at Yahoo! Steve Jobs came to speak to a large group of employees and I was in the audience. He was talking about the dive Apple took while he was away from the company and here’s how he summed it up: “We used to say our #1 goal was to make beautiful computers and #2 was to make enough money to keep doing #1. Somewhere along the way Apple got those reversed.” I think this corporate strategy is what sets them apart. Sure their game is dominance and they want to win at any cost, but they know fundamentally that delighting consumers is the way to their success. So #1 and #2 on your list are very closely intertwined and Apple knows this probably as well as any company in the world IMHO. You are correct, though, that #3, seeing the music industry succeed, is a VERY distant third and that’s why we should all be concerned.
    ian
    ps – Brian, not sure what I did to wrong you but if you want to drop me a note and take it up with me in person instead of posting that I’m looking to scam people on message boards please I’d appreciate it. I’m just ian at topspin media dot com.

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