updated 11:00 am EDT, Tue August 21, 2007
Wal-Mart Begins MP3 Sales
Wal-Mart today opened its MP3 music downloads, giving customers the option of unprotected songs playable on any device rather than the protected Windows Media files that have been the staple of the retailer's website. The initial catalog includes both music from EMI as well as the recently promised Universal music library, which gives customers the option of artists such as 50 Cent and Bon Jovi. Tracks typically sell at nearly the same price as protected versions with individual songs offered for 94 cents each and most albums available for about $9.22.
The catalog and pricing significantly undercut Apple's offering, which is currently limited to only EMI musicians and is obligated to charge $1.29 per song, roughly a third more than its new competitor. Wal-Mart has not explained whether the pricing applies to all tracks but promises that its MP3s are completely compatible with devices that have typically been excluded from its online store, including iPhones, iPods, and Microsoft's Zune.
Accessing the store officially requires Windows XP or Vista, and Wal-Mart has not said whether it will change the conditions for access now that Macs, Linux, and earlier versions of Windows can now play its content.
The deal with Universal is currently a trial run that may expire as soon as January depending on its results, which the company claims will be used to determine the viability of selling music without DRM. Multiple reports have suspected that deals with Wal-Mart, as well as other smaller stores such as Rhapsody, are ultimately meant to test non-iTunes sales and pressure Apple into delivering more favorable contracts for hosting Universal artists.