Wal-Mart Starts Selling DRM-Free MP3s

Mega-retailer Wal-Mart hasn’t been a major player in the music download market—heck, aside from iTunes, there aren’t major players in the music download market right now. Nonetheless, the company is looking to make its presence felt by following its tried-and-true methodologY: offer lots of products, and undercut the competition. Today, Wal-Mart announced it is offering music from Universal and EMI in 256Kbps, DRM-free MP3 format for $0.94 per track, with most albums going for $9.22. Special offers on "album classics" dip to prices of $7.88 and $5.88.

In comparison, DRM-free tracks from iTunes Plus—which carries the EMI catalog but doesn’t offer Universal tracks—are $1.29 apiece.

"As we consistently strive to help our customers shop smart at Wal-Mart, our new DRM-free MP3 digital tracks give them the ease and flexibility to play music on virtually any device at a great value," said Wal-Mart’s senior director and divisional manager for digital media Kevin Swint, in a release. "Also, we’re excited to launch our MP3 catalog with major record labels such as Universal and EMI Music that includes music from popular artists like The Rolling Stones, Coldplay, KT Tunstall, Amy Winehouse, Maroon 5, George Strait, and Nelly."

Wal-Mart continues to offer protected WMA downloads for $0.88 per track at 128 Kbps encoding rates. All versions of songs available on the Wal-Mart download service are parent-friendly: the company has not changed its policy of banning explicit lyrics in its stores and services.

In an ironic note, while Wal-Mart touts the MP3 formats’ compatibility with a wide variety of platforms and music players—including Apple’s iPod line—Wal-Mart’s digital music store still only supports Windows 2000, XP, and Vista.

Industry watchers will keep a close eye on Wal-Mart’s online music retailing efforts: while the retailer is a major force in CD and DVD sales, it has yet to make a dent in online music sales. And the number of efforts gunning for Apple’s iTunes store is going up: Universal has opened its own online music store, and MTV and RealNetworks are on the verge of unifying their better-established Urge and Rhapsody music services to better compete with iTunes. Wal-Mart has their work cut out for them.

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