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Lala sells 'streaming rights' at 10c a song

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If you thought you've heard of every digital music idea going, try this one on for size. Lala, the former CD-swapping site, is offering you the chance to "buy" the right to be streamed a song for life for 10 cents. For that, you'll never get a licence to an actual copy - physical, or digital. Lala calls it a "Websong".

Like Michael Robertson's mp3tunes.com service, Lala is "cloud computing" for music.

"If the goal is to get consumers to buy more music, then the existing model of how it’s priced and sold doesn’t work," Lala founder Bill Nyugen told Billboard.

Lala has been testing the idea since May and reckons 30 to 40 per cent of streaming sign-ups buy a licensed copy of the song to keep. Presumably, the other 60 per cent just rip it using Audiograbber or Audio Hijack.

We first wrote about Lala back in 2006, when it was setting sail as a CD trading site. Last year, it turned into a music discovery service and has now moved into retail, signing the four major labels. Songs can be moved into a virtual locker, but can't be transferred to an iPod or music player. You can see how the company is keen to sell you an access right.

So why hasn't it been tried before?

Probably because the surest way of making sure you can hear a song "for life" is to acquire a physical copy. And if you're going make the effort to undertake a streaming transaction, the same effort gets you a copy. The real hassle is the transaction.

In addition, there are people who will subscribe to streaming rights by the bundle (it's called "radio"), it's not a huge number, and it's hard to see people stumping up the right for an individual song.

Equally, the "for life" portion of the deal is unlikely to quicken pulses, since it's not a transferable right. And being a startup, Lala.com doesn't have the brand trust of an established, century-old blue chip name - such as your Lehman Brothers, or your Goldman Sachs. ®

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