Lala.com testing 10-cent “trapped in your browser” song rentals

Posted by Humphrey Cheung

San Francisco (CA) – Would you pay 10-cents per song for music that can only be played within a browser?  That’s what Lala.com hopes people will do with its upcoming music rental store.  Michael Robertson of MP3.com fame leaked out details of the new service which promises free song previews and cheap 10-cent music rentals.  But there’s a catch, these songs are, as Robertson says, “trapped in a tab in your browser.”

Whether you believe Robertson actually leaked out details or if this is one hell of a smart public relations campaign on lala.com’s part isn’t the point – the service does sound interesting.  Subscribers will be able to preview any song from the 5 million clip collection for free.  At first, the user can 'preview' the songs by listening to the entire clip.  Subsequent plays last just 30 seconds each.  Customers pay 10-cents per song to rent the clips.  This allows unlimited full playback with a web browser and the first rentals are free.

Most of the songs are encoded in 128 kb/sec bitrate, but the FAQ page on Lala.com says some songs may be streamed in lower 64 kb/sec.  The service allows subscribers to upload their own songs into a ‘music locker’ for later playback.

The rented songs can only be played within the browser and cannot be downloaded onto portable MP3 players or other devices.  But iPod and iRiver fans don't have to worry because if you really like the song, you can buy the downloadable MP3 - the 10-cent rental fee will be deducted from the price.

Online music stores have typically offered downloadable songs for approximately one Dollar each, but Robertson argues that you are at the mercy of the music store and likens it to a landlord being able to change the rules for the tenants at any time.  If the music store goes out of business, then your songs could potentially be unplayable.  And Robertson warns people that even the biggest and best financed companies can be killed off and he gives Microsoft’s MSN Music Store as a prime example.

“If Microsoft, the richest technology company in the world, cannot keep their store going that indicates you need to expect any store to be in jeopardy of shutting down,” says Robertson.

If you want to try out the beta version of Lala.com's music store click here.  Michael Robertson's blog about the service can be read here.