Wal-Mart Now Offers DRM-Free Downloads But Still Has Issues with Firefox

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Wal-Mart is trying to step up its competition with Apple iTunes. The retail giant, which is already the No. 1 seller of recorded music because of CD sales, will now sell digital downloads of songs without any copy protection (DRM) via walmart.com for 94 cents a track, or $9.22 an album. The service will launch with music from two of the major record labels: Universal Music and EMI.

The company plans to continue offering its existing WMA protected format for other music downloads, which cost 88 cents a track but won’t work with iPods and plenty of other digital music players. Here’s what Kevin Swint, Wal-Mart senior director for digital media, had to say, “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.”

Apple, of course, has its own DRM-free music offered at a $1.29 per track via iTunes. This is a tough call for me. I gave Wal-Mart a chance way back when (well, a couple years ago) and wasn’t that impressed (i.e., the $.11 savings over iTunes wasn’t worth the annoyance). And even now where the difference between a $1.29 and $.94 is a much greater spread — plus the music will actually work with my iPod — I’m still not sure the $.35 savings is enough for me to deal with something outside of iTunes for my digital music downloads.

Also, it doesn’t help that Wal-Mart gives me the following message on my first visit:

“We notice you’re not using Internet Explorer. Other browsers may be able to access our original Music Downloads store which has fewer user features than our latest version but offers the same music. We will be making enhancements to our updated version in the future to support the Firefox browser. If you want to take advantage of all the features in our updated design now, please get the latest version of Internet Explorer.”

That alone is enough reason for me to give up on trying Wal-Mart’s new service. So Apple has me right where it wants me. I use iTunes and iTunes only at this point for my music downloads, though the majority of my music (and everyone’s, incidentally) comes from CDs purchased and then ripped.

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