Ryan Chartrand

Music listeners have been trading favorite songs and albums since before the vinyl record, but with the growing popularity of downloading and online CD stores, the communication between music fans has been lost.

Lala.com is trying to change that.

As the newest addition to the Internet music community, the CD-trading Web site encourages communication between users and is completely legal, cheap and easy to use.

“We all love going to the record store,” lala.com spokesperson John Kuch said. “We’re trying to create a similar experience online.”

The Palo Alto based Web site launched its beta version on June 8, and currently has 100,000 members and over 1.8 million available titles.

Amazon.com has 1 million titles and E-bay has 250,000 CDs available for purchase.

“The response has been incredible,” Kuch said. “People have been coming on nonstop.”

Users can trade used CDs for $1 plus shipping costs with a format similar to E-bay and Netflix.

“You put your CDs in and get a new CD out,” Kuch said.

After joining the free Web site, members can list used CDs that they want to trade in their “have” list and then they can search for CDs that they don’t have and add them to their “want” list.

Once a CD is requested from the “have” list, members receive a CD from their “want” list.

“The adage, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure really works here,” Kuch said.

Condition of the CDs is checked by the customers. When a CD arrives, the member rates the condition, which in turn changes the senders “karma” rating.

“Karma” is a number assigned to accounts that is only viewable by the member. It determines how many CDs they will be able to trade in the future.

“If you’re doing good things, you get good thing out of it,” Kuch said. “It’s sort of like real karma that actually exists.”

If a CD is in bad condition, buying members get their credit back and are placed at the top of the list for the next available CD.

Another unique feature of lala.com is that 20 percent of the revenue made from trading CDs goes back to the artists.

“That’s never been done by a used record store,” Kuch said.

The voluntary contribution to artists is part of the “Z” Foundation, a non-profit organization established by lala.com that provides musicians with monetary rewards directly from fans.

“Our technology will be transformed into an online co-op where musicians can seek information and receive financial support for everyday needs,” lala.com co-founder Bill Nguyen said.

In addition, members can blog and write reviews about their CDs and others. The Web site wants to foster a record store atmosphere where users discuss and learn about new music.

“You discover new artists through the people you talk to,” Kuch said. “And it’s really about discovering new music.”

Lala.com is trying hard to work with the “mom and pop” stores to ensure their survival as the music industry moves more towards the Internet.

“We see ourselves as complimentary to local record shops,” Kuch said.

One such record shop, located in downtown San Luis Obispo, is Boo Boo Records.

“San Luis Obispo is such a great music town,” Kuch said. “But all physical record stores are limited by shelf space.”

To combat that issue, Boo Boo Records has taken to the Internet.

“We have a strong online presence,” Boo Boo Records manager Mike White said.

The store has thousands of new and used online titles and can search for other albums.

“We’re really aggressive with special orders,” White said.

The Internet has been a big issue within the music industry during the past decade but according to IFPI, an international record trade group, 94 percent of music sales are in physical CD form.

Digital music, including online downloads and mobile music ringtones, accounts for the other six percent.

According to Apple, iTunes has sold 1 billion songs and 42 million iPods over the past three years, which equals only one album of music per iPod sale.

“We certainly think that the future of music is in downloading,” Kuch said. “But right now we have all these CDs lying around collecting dust.”

So what’s next for lala.com?

New full-length albums and digital album downloads are on the list for additions to the Web site.

Lala.com is hoping to offer new CDs for under $10.

“We’re building demand and by doing that with a lot of people we’ll be able to see a price savings,” Kuch said.

Ultimately, lala.com is all about the customers.

“We’d have nothing if it wasn’t for our members,” Kuch said. “Our whole reason for being is to allow people to run their own record store.”

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