The Day The Music Died: Is Shutting Down on 5/31

This morning I awoke to this news:

In what has already been a rather clumsy week for Apple, Inc., what with their draconian pursuit of the Gizmodo guy over the leaked iPhone prototype, now comes the news that Apple is shelving one of the most progressive music services on the Internets (which Apple acquired earlier this year). I’m sure Michael Robertson must be relishing this particular development.

For those of you who are not familiar with, just do a search of this website and you’ll see that I’ve been extolling its virtues for over a year as an important element in the inevitable drift toward the Celestial Jukebox — which I have defined simply as “whatever you want to hear, whenever you want to hear it, wherever you are, if the bastards ever let us.”

So score one for the bastards. At least temporarily.

When Apple acquired Lala, there was of course absolutely no indication what the proud new parent company planned to do with its errant adopted child. Lala’s business model — essentially ‘renting’ music instead of buying it for a fraction of the purchase price — presents a direct challenge to iTunes still dominant 99 cent purchase-only model.

So it is easy to rush to the conclusion that Apple has thrown Lala under the bus, particularly since this announcement comes during a week when Apple is being universally reviled as the the personification of the very Big Brother it challenged with its famous 1984 Mac ad. And that may very well be their strategy here, to shelve Lala and continue selling music for 99c per track. If that’s the case, it’s a strategy doomed ultimately to failure.

You also have to wonder what sort of coincidence is it that this shut-down announcement arrives on the same day that Apple announces the availability of the iPad 3G. Coincidence? Maybe not.

Ultimately, I don’t think it matters what Apple does with Lala. If Steve honestly believes that there is no future for streaming subscription services, if he truly believes that in the age of infinite storage and bandwidth people are still determined to “own” a tiny library of music when the technology offers the “access” to the ever expanding universe of all the music that has ever been recorded, then he really is off his meds. Technology is destiny, and destiny in this case is the Celestial Jukebox. This is just another case of the bastards standing in the way.

Or is it?

Steve Jobs has not driven Apple to the threshold of global domination by being stupid. And throwing Lala under the bus is stupid. So I have to believe there’s another shoe to drop.

I have absolutely nothing to substantiate this expectation. I have after all discovered in the past year or so that I do have an inordinate capacity for self delusion and wishful thinking, and maybe this is just more of that. But I still believe that sometime later this year Apple is going to announce that it has rolled the guts of into iTunes, and that rather than suppressing the inevitable, Apple is going to embrace it, advance it in ways that we can not yet imagine, and once again transform the music business.

Here’s what I still believe: that sometime later this year – maybe in concert with the introduction of the next iPhone, or maybe when the new iPhone OS4 (with limited 3rd-party multitasking) rolls out for the iPad, Apple is going to introduce a cloud-storage program with a streaming subscription service. I think Steve Jobs is prescient enough to see that that model is the ultimate promise of all this technology. I don’t think he’s foolish enough to think that he alone can stand in the path of the inevitable rush of technological progress, even if he does own iTunes.

So we wait for the other shoe to drop. There is another chapter to this story. Maybe it’s not the ending I want to see. Maybe Steve keeps telling us we have to pay 99cents per track to gather digital music. If he does, then he is just clearing a wider path for MOG, Rhapsody, or even Spotify (if it ever comes to this country) to push iTunes and its antiquated “unit purchase” model out of the market place. Or maybe Steve will do it himself.

I mean, if indeed Lala is truly dead and never to be resurrected in another form, what will I and thousands of others do to replace it? I for one have gotten pretty used to listening to stuff I’ve never heard before in its entirely for free, at least once. If I can’t get that capability through an iTunes version of Lala, hell, I’ll just hold my nose and go subscribe to Rhapsody. And you really think Steve Jobs is gonna let THAT happen?

But like I said, after three decades of PCs and Windows, I don’t now have a house full of Apple products because Steve Jobs is stupid. So you all groan and gnash your teeth over today’s announcement of the closing of Lala, and I will share your disappointment and fear of the future. But I don’t think this story is over by a long shot.