Inside Wal-Mart’s Online Music Store & Digital Rights Management

Analysts viewed Wal-Martis announcement Thursday of its foray into online music distribution as a potential threat to Apple, but it would appear that for the time being the service compares more so with the likes of BuyMusic.com than the iTunes Music Store.

The sufficiently titled "WalMart.com - Music Downloads" service offers all songs for 88 cents with albums typically priced at $9.44, undercutting competing services in typical Wal-Mart fashion. Apple fans are no stranger to paying a premium, however, and when it comes to online music services, the adage of getting what you pay for suddenly rings true.

Wal-Martis Music Downloads are served up in Microsoftis WMA format at 128-bits and employs Media Player 9is Digital Rights Management solution, making the service only available to Windows users. Powered by Liquid Digital Media, the Wal-Mart branded music services relies on the cumbersome interface of a Web browser, suffering the same interface shortcomings that BuyMusic.com does. When purchasing a full album, for example, one must manually download each track individually.

Ironically, Wal-Mart has gone to pains to explain that the service does not work with the Mac OS. From the siteis "About section:"

Note: Music downloads from Walmart.com will not play on any Apple Macintosh computer.

What Wal-Mart fails to note is that it also does not work with its own Linux-based Lindows PCs.

The integration between the Web and Microsoftis DRM also lends itself to other caveats: first, one must download a song within 90 days of purchasing it or you forfeit access to the song; second, a song must be listened to at least once within 120 days of download or the file will be rendered unplayable. Also, while users are entitled to "back-up" their songs to up to two other computers, they can only actually play them on the original computer that downloaded the music. In fact, if you switch to a new computer and wish to move your purchased music to it, the only solution offered by Wal-Mart is to burn your music to an audio CD and then to play that CD in the new computer.

Burning of tracks is also relatively restricted, at least compared to Appleis terms of use. Songs downloaded from Wal-Mart can be burned a total of 10 times, period. Once a track has reached its limit, Microsoftis DRM kicks in and will prevent the user from burning it anymore. Songs can be transferred an unlimited times to portable players, however.

Wal-Martis music catalog is currently limited to about 200,000 songs -- half of Appleis -- from the five major record labels as well as some independent labels, although more music will be added in the future. Wal-Mart, whose retail stores account for 20 percent of music sales in the U.S., plans to officially roll out the service early next year.

Lastly, in a slight gaff that only Mac useris would appreciate, Wal-Martis "Learn More" page features a screenshot of its service taken from a Mac OS 9 Web browser!


A screenshot featured on the Wal-Mart
site that was made with Classic Mac OS

Alex Allee and Bryan Chaffin assisted with this article.

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