Lala.com – or why buy albums when you can own them virtually?

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If you’ve not heard of music website Lala.com, it’s well worth a look. Okay, so the name’s a bit pish, but the site itself is pretty innovative.

It’s all about streaming music, promising “all the music you could ever want, playable in a web browser”. It’s not alone in that aim, with rival sites like MySpace Music, Imeem and iLike all offering music streams.

But Lala just announced a new way to pay for this music. Whereas most of its rivals are free to use, and funded by adverts, Lala reckon they can get punters to pay for the rights to ‘virtually own’ music.

How? By paying 10 cents for a permanent licence to listen to any track you don’t already own on your computer. Cough up for a song, and when logged into Lala from anywhere in the world, you’ll be able to listen to it.

Lala reckons that not only will the scheme suit music fans, but it’ll persuade them to pay extra to actually download the tracks they like best. Bands and record labels make money, fans get access to a big catalogue of music, everyone’s happy. Right?

But there’s a flaw in this virtual ownership lark. Will music fans really pay 10 cents just to see if they like a tune, especially if they can probably find it for free on any one of a number of other sites (try typing any band name and song title into Songza or Seeqpod for example)?

And if we do love something, we want to own it – not virtually own it, but properly own it. The good thing about Lala’s new pricing model is that if you buy a song after paying for the streaming rights, you get the 10 cents off the price.

But it’s still a minefield for music geeks. So you end up with a big collection of virtual songs, yet who knows if Lala will be around in a year or two’s time – what happens to your virtual collection then?

Thanks, but no thanks. For now, we’ll stick to free streaming sites to discover new music, and then paid downloads if we want to own it.

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