Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, is getting into the digital download game.
The nationwide superstore launched its own music download service Tuesday after an unceremonious "soft launch" proved successful, a company spokesperson said. Like its competitors, iTunes, Napster and Rhapsody, Wal-Mart's service boasts a vast music library (more than 300,000 songs and growing), recommendations, reviews and exclusive live, remixed and unreleased tracks from the likes of Jessica Simpson, Hilary Duff, JC Chasez, 3 Doors Down and Black Eyed Peas.
Unlike its peers, however, Wal-Mart is selling songs for just 88 cents, 11 cents cheaper than the industry standard. Wal-Mart's service is also unique in that like its regular retail outlets, it only deals in "clean" music.
Once downloaded, the songs can be burned to a CD, played on a Windows-compatible PC, or transferred to a portable device, though not to the popular iPod. The device responsible for half of all revenues derived from portable players cannot play songs encoded in Windows Media Audio, the coding Wal-Mart and most other non-iTunes online stores use. But as anyone who owns an iPod knows, however, burning the download to a CD and then ripping the track using the iPod software gets around that problem fairly easily.
Despite the compatibility issues, Wal-Mart's service offers a few convenient features of its own. A download manager lets users download multiple tracks or entire albums with a single click, gift cards are available at the retailer's brick-and-mortar stores and online, and customer support is available via telephone or e-mail around the clock.
Exact figures for how many songs were downloaded since the service's beta launch in December weren't given, though a company spokesperson said between 10 and 15 percent of all visitors to Wal-Mart's home page clicked through to the music service.
As Apple's iTunes recently racked up its 50 millionth download while taking in 50 percent of all paid download revenues, Wal-Mart isn't the only company threatening their place at the top of the download ranks. In addition to Napster and Rhapsody reporting increased usage, Virgin Megastore has launched a download service, while Sony and most recently Microsoft announced their plans to launch services later this year.
For complete digital music coverage, check out the Digital Music Reports.