Wal-Mart revamps DRM-free MP3 music site

With today's re-launch of a DRM-free music site first opened in February, Wal-Mart now offers a bigger catalog of three million MP3-format tracks from all major record labels, along with a lower starting price point for some tracks.

Although standard pricing on the site is 94 cents per track, Wal-Mart is now selling some Top 25 songs for 74 cents per download.

Wal-Mart also started a promotion in which it provides a free MP3 download with every CD purchased either on its Web site or in its retail stores.


The retail giant has lately been enmeshed in a competitive struggle with Apple's iTunes, with Apple contending on several occasions that its music sales have surpassed those of the mass retailer, both online and in the brick-and-mortar stores. On the strictly-digital front, reports from analysts at NPD Group earlier in 2008 indicate that iTunes leads in digital-music sales, with relative newcomer Amazon holding down second place.

To compare digital stores, iTunes claims to offer about 8 million songs, though not all of those are DRM-free. The fledgling Lala service, which is offering DRM-free tracks at 89 cents each, claims about 6 million songs available; Amazon says its service has above 6 million, though some sources say the number is closer to 4.5 million. eMusic and Audio Lunchbox, smaller and somewhat specialized services both of which offer DRM-free tracks, claim 3.5 million and over 2 million tracks respectively.

Wal-Mart has exhibited notable success, however, in rounding up exclusive content. AC/DC's well-reviewed new album "Black Ice," for example, is offered only through walmart.com and its samsclub.com sibling (in addition to the band's own site). That album is currently #1 on the charts with 780,000 copies sold, online and off, between October 20 and 28.

As previously reported in BetaNews, Wal-Mart sent a letter to customers about a month ago announcing plans to shut down the DRM servers for its older music download site on October 9 -- meaning that tracks downloaded before that date would have only been playable on the PCs to which they'd been downloaded, unless customers had already copied the tunes to audio CDs.

About two weeks later, though, the company apparently changed its mind, announcing to customers that it had decided to leave its old DRM servers up after all.

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