A couple of days ago my first CD from Lala.com arrived. Actually, it got send to me by a Lala.com member, since the service facilitates P2P style disc swapping. The CD itself is quite alright. It has one or two scratches, but nothing out of the ordinary. You probably could expect to pay up to 10 bucks for it at a used CD store. Lala.com charges only a buck, plus one of your own CDs in case you want to receive any further.

There is a few things about this that seem remarkable to me.
First of all, it's clever to send out the first CD without any commitments. When I found the CD in my mailbox I was genuinely suprised. I didn't give Lala.com my credit card information yet. In fact I wasn't even sure they had my address. Which, of course, I had given while signing up. But it seemed like a very unobstrubsive detail at that time, and not anything that would get your started.

With my first CD from another Lala.com member in my hand I suddenly felt a strong obligation to give back. List a few more CDs of my own, engage on the site. And, yes, put in my billing information. They know how to get you hooked, that's for sure.

Another aspect that seemed interesting to me was the packaging. I had assumed Lala.com would use something like a Netflix system. Thin envelopes with barely any padding and bare discs, that is. But since they are relying on the CDs of their members they obviously cannot afford as much loss as Netflix. If your Netflix DVD breaks in the mail, they can just resend you a new one. But if the only Lala-registered copy of some obscure folk artist breaks, well that's a real loss. Not only to the sender and the receiver of that disc, but to the Lala.com pool as a whole.

Bottom line: They need to take care of their CDs. Lala.com does that by adding a protective plastic case. Kind of like the ones that you used to get on trade shows back in the days, but completely with a Lala.com sticker. This little graphic on the Lala.com envelope says it all:

Lala.com envelope

Also interesting: The envelope is sized in a way that prevents you from shipping complete plastic CD cases. One thing that I'm still unsure about tho is how to treat digipacks. For the MP3 generaton out there: A digipack is a paper based CD case with a plastic core. It's a little slimmer than your regular CD case - and it does fit in the Lala.com envelope.

Now why would I want to send the case? Well, usually digipacks have the cover printed on the packaging, and quite often labels try to use the packaging material to recreate the look and feel of a vinyl LP. It's not just some liner notes trapped in a scratched plastic case, but a unique cover complete with elements that fold out. Throwing this away just becaue you traded the CD seems kind of wasteful. Plus it feels like the other user would only get half the album if you just send him a bare disc.

I'm not sure if digipacks would survive being shipped in the Lala.com envelope tho. Looks like I'll just have to give it a try. Expect more Lala.com observations here soon.
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