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SoundStage! Update

Singing La La's Praises

September 4, 2006

Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?

High-end audio has its version of this accusatory question: Are you a music lover or equipment lover? If you're an audiophile because of the music, here is a definitive way to answer: Join La La (www.lala.com) and trade your unwanted CDs for titles you do want.

La La has been in operation since the spring of this year and boasts 1.8 million titles ready for trade. When you join, you create a Have List of CDs that you want to trade, and a Want List of CDs you'd like to receive. Whenever a CD on your Have List matches that on another member's Want List, you are asked if you want to ship it to that person. La La provides the addresses and envelopes, along with clamshell protective mailers for the CDs. As you send your CDs to others, you will receive CDs on your Want List. La La charges $1.75 each trade -- $1.00 for the trading fee and 75 cents for the mailing cost.

I joined two months ago and have received dozens of discs that I haven't gotten around to buying new and haven't been able to find used. I still have dozens on my Want List that I'm hoping to receive. I have also been able to prune my CD collection -- which is approaching 3000 in number -- of discs that I no longer listen to.

There are some hitches. Early in La La's existence, members were required to send only the CDs to each other, not the liner notes or other artwork. This created a pool of CDs without artwork that members continue to trade. La La has since added the ability to specify that you want artwork with CDs you receive, but only the front booklet is required. Even so, many La La members send all of the artwork -- even Digipaks, which integrate the artwork with the CD's case.

Artwork is a topic of great debate on the La La forums; many old-timers see it as a nuisance, while newbies are adamant about getting all of it with each trade. So far, every CD I've sent has included complete artwork, but only about two-thirds of those that I've received have had everything. It's easy enough to print the art that sits under the jewel-case tray from online sources; the liner notes are far more important because of the lyrics they often include.

There is also the matter of scratched discs. I've received some beat-up CDs in trade, some of which skipped. In these cases, I marked the CDs as unplayable when I received them, and La La found me another copy. You don't have to pay for defective CDs. However, I have also received scratched CDs that play just fine. These, according to La La's rules, are considered just like new CDs, in which case you have to acknowledge them that way.

Thus, La La is built on an honor system. There is really no other way for it to operate. How, then, is abuse handled? Each member builds La La's version of karma, the exact formula for which is kept pretty much secret. Presumably, if you have good karma, you rank higher when it comes to receiving discs you want. If you mark too many discs unplayable, your karma takes a hit. Other transgressions will also ding your karma.

Overall, my La La experience has been very positive. La La members genuinely love music, and they appreciate the access that the site gives them to inexpensive CDs. If your CD collection needs some trimming, or if you'd like to take a chance on CDs without having to pay full price for them, give La La a try. You might become as hooked as some longtime members with hundreds of trades under their belts. This is a website -- and concept -- to watch, comrades....Marc Mickelson, editor@soundstage.com

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