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Review of LaLa.com, Used CD Trading Site

Don't Sell Your Used CDs; Trade Them For Good CDs

Copyright © 2006 Andrew B. Davidson. All Rights Reserved.
Last Updated: June 2007
UPDATE JANUARY 2010: LaLa has completely ended its trading service. As of January 2010, users can still download their CD trading lists (have list and want list) by logging in and clicking the "Trading" Tab. All other CD trading has ceased. This review is now completely inaccurate and left up only for historical/informational purposes.
UPDATE JUNE 2007: LaLa has changed focus away from CD trading. They have stopped actively promoting the site as a CD trading site, and have decided to go head-to-head with iTunes Music Store by selling digital downloads and offering streaming music, and some sort of music management plugin. Several features that made it easier to find CDs have been removed. As a result, all of the info in this review is verging on obsolete. I can no longer recommend LaLa to anyone as a site to trade your used CDs until things settle down and LaLa decides what kind of site they really want to be. It certainly seems like they are trasitioning away from CD trading, as they continue to downplay the CD trading aspect and remove valuable features. It remains to be seen if LaLa will succeed as a general music site, or even maintain their user base, 100% of which signed up simply to trade CDs.
LaLa.com is a web site for trading used CD's. You can trade your second-hand CDs with other members of the site. It is specifically for original, commercial audio CDs, not burned copies, bootlegs, or MP3s. LaLa charges $1.75 for each CD you receive, and that includes the shipping costs, so it's a great way to convert your old CDs that you are tired of into better ones rather cheaply.

It works like this: you list the CDs you have on the LaLa site, and also the CDs you want. If another LaLa member wants a CD you have, a "Ship It" button appears next to that CD when you visit the site. If you click Ship It, LaLa gives you the address of the person to ship it to. You fill out the mailer with their address, and send them the CD.

When you ship a CD, your account is credited one CD. In other words, LaLa "owes" you a CD. LaLa will then show your address to members who have the CDs that you want, and so other people send you discs that you have requested. When you receive a CD, you're even again. LaLa keeps track of how many discs you send and receive, so you will end up getting one disc you want for each one you ship out, although it's not always a direct 1-for-1 process. Sometimes you may be owed a few discs after you send out a few. How fast you get CDs depends on which CDs you want, how popular they are, etc. You can enter CDs into your Want List any time you want. If you have a huge Want List, you'll be sent a CD almost instantly after you ship one. If your Want List is small, it may take a week or even longer to receive one.

When you receive a CD, it is yours to keep. LaLa is not a lending site like NetFlix where you have to send the discs back. Of course, if you don't like a disc, you can just trade it away again. Or just listen to it for a while and then exchange it when you're tired of it.

One fun but slightly annoying part of LaLa is that you don't know what CD is going to come next. There is no way to prioritize your Want List, so it is almost completely random what CD you will be sent. It's almost like having an Amazon wish list where people periodically buy you gifts. However, over time, you can sort of get a feel for what type of CDs will be sent quickly if you request them.

LaLa makes the process of entering your "haves" as painless as possible. As you type the title of the CD or artist, a drop-down appears that shows possible matches. This excellent feature minimizes typing. You can also enter the UPC bar code, or even a song on the disc to find it. You cannot list CDs that are not in their database however. But their database is enormous. It has almost every CD with a bar code.

Similarly to your have list, you also put CDs on your Want List. You should be careful putting discs on your Want List, because you do not get a chance to confirm whether or not you really want it. If you put it there, you may be sent that disc any time you are owed discs. So ponder carefully whether you really want the disc before listing it as a Want.

When you first sign up, LaLa sends you a batch of special pre-metered mailers, and clamshell cases for the discs. So you don't have to spend any money or time dealing with shipping and handling other than writing the recipient's address on the mailer, putting the CD in clamshell case in the mailer, and putting the mailer in a mailbox.

When you receive a CD you have requested, you confirm with LaLa that you have received it. You confirm it so that the sender can be credited with having sent one. This is to make sure people can't game the system and get free CDs without actually sending any out.

Multiple CD sets and box sets are handled in a disc-for-disc fashion. This means that you won't get the entire multi-disc set at one time. So LaLa is maybe not so great for multi-disc sets.

One slight downside with LaLa is cover art. Originally, LaLa was about sending discs only, no cover booklets. Some people sent the booklets anyway. Now, however, you can specify via your settings page whether you want to receive with cover art only, or no preference. Unfortunately there is no way to specify that you want both front and back art (i.e. the cover booklet as well as the inlay card). LaLa dictates that art is the cover book only. I have found that most people send the tray card as well.

LaLa does not guarantee that the discs you receive will be pristine or free of marks, etc. However, they do guarantee playability. They require that all tracks be playable on all CDs sent. If you send out defective discs, your hidden "karma" score is reduced, and if you keep sending them, you may be booted from the site. If you receive a defective disc, you can report it to LaLa and be credited a disc.

One kind of weird rule is that they disallow trading promotional copies of CDs. These are discs marked "For Promo Only. Not for Resale." Unfortunately there are probably millions of discs like these in used CD stores etc, so you may want to double-check before sending a disc that may have come from a used CD store or garage sale.

When you first sign up, you will be allowed to send only 5 CDs more than you have received, to keep the trading balance somewhat equal and so the LaLa CD economy humming along. As you trade more and more, this limit will be increased to 10, then 15.

What CDs are Easy To Get On LaLa?

In my experience, you will very quickly receive discs that are along the lines of "VH1 Top Hits of the 80's," "Pure Funk," or other similar greatest hits Eighties and Nineties pop compilation discs. Similarly, if you want any of the "Now That's What I Call Music" series, you are in luck. You will likely receive those very quickly. However, you can receive a wide range of discs, if you are willing to wait a little while. I have received discs that I put on my Want List, never thinking I would actually get them.

LaLa is also a good place to get CD singles and EPs. Perhaps people are more willing to trade those away because they have fewer songs than regular full length CDs and so it seems like a better exchange. I have gotten several rare and out of print CD singles that would probably have been about $10 or more on eBay.

But in general, you can receive almost any disc on LaLa. There is no special genre that it specializes in, they have it all, from pop, classical, rock n roll, blues, and country, to electronic, dance. They even list import CDs that you probably didn't even know existed.

How to Find Good CDs for your Want List

Go to an artist page, e.g. Thievery Corporation, and then click the compliations tab. This lists all compliation CDs that have Thievery Corporation on them. Most of these CDs will probably be good if you like Thievery Corporation! This is a great way to build up a want list of CDs you've never heard of, but that are probably pretty good.

What are the Other Features of LaLa.com?

LaLa has many other features: streaming radio (WOXY), custom radio stations, tags, reviews, see who owns that disc, see how popular a CD is. There's lots of stuff to explore.

LaLa is also a store for new CDs: at any time you can purchase some of the CDs you want as regular new CDs. The prices seem competitive, however there is a shipping fee. And, not all CDs are available for purchase.

You can sample the tracks of almost all mainstream CDs in low-quality 30-second WMA snippet form. You don't even need to trade any CDs for this feature! LaLa is actually one of the best sites on the web for sampling CDs. It is very low quality though. I estimate about 24kbps, but it's better than nothing.

One nifty feature is that you can search your own CD collection. So if you have a ton of compliation discs, you can find that one song easily. This is a rather handy feature. It would be nice if they added the ability to export your CD collection as a database, but that is not yet available.

Pros

Trade used CDs cheaply and easily. A fraction of the price of buying used CDs, and much better than selling used CDs to secondhand CD stores.

Access to a potentially huge archive of used CDs.

Can sample snippets of the CDs before adding them to your Want List.

Good way to get value out of your used CDs that are just sitting there collecting dust.

Very responsive site creators who listen to their users.

Easy to add CDs to the site.

Search your own CD collection by song or artist.

Fun "shuffle" factor of not knowing what CD you'll receive next (but knowing it'll be one you requested).

Cons

Requires a credit card.

Costs $1.75 (+ a traded disc of yours) per disc you receive. This is not so bad compared to other sources of used CDs however it can add up.

Don't have direct control over what discs you receive first or even if you ever receive them. Some CDs are harder to get than others.

You won't always receive cover art. Even if you set it as a requirement, you may not receive the inlay card.

Some discs/art are not pristine (but LaLa guarantees their playability).

United States addresses only.

Conclusion

If you have CDs that you are no longer interested in, and would like to trade them for good CDs, LaLa.com is a great way to do it. You're not always guaranteed to get totally pristine discs and cover art, but you can't beat the price and the convenience. LaLa is much better than selling your used CDs for pennies on the dollar to a used CD store.

Comments? Feedback?

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