March 23, 2004 11:01 AM PST

Watch for falling music download prices

Wal-Mart Stores is bringing cut-rate prices to the ever-more-crowded world of online music.

On Tuesday, the mammoth chain retailer formally opened its online music store, from which customers can download music at 88 cents per song. That's 11 cents less than Apple Computer charges at its iTunes music store, which has been the pacesetter on this e-commerce track.

The Wal-Mart service allows customers to play downloaded music on Windows PCs, to burn songs to a CD or to transfer music to portable devices. Usage rights are uniform across the company's catalog of music. The retailer began testing the service in December and is working in partnership with Liquid Digital Media, formerly Liquid Audio.

The service includes a "download manager" designed to help customers retrieve full albums and groups of songs.

There's no shortage of companies that want to be the outlet for consumers looking to acquire songs online. Besides Apple, which last month said it was selling approximately 2.5 million downloads per week, the competition includes MusicMatch and the reborn Napster. Microsoft plans to enter the fray in the second half of the year.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart said it has an exclusive two-month deal with Curb Records, whose country music stars include Tim McGraw, LeAnn Rimes and Jodee Messina.

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Falling Download Prices: No Trouble At All
It's high time for download customers to circle their CD burners around the campfire and NOT pay the vendor's "Going Rate" on purchasing music tracks! When Internet down-loaders ran scared and came up against the Copyright Infringement machine whose lawsuits hit the sour note of pocketbook infringement, we said...whew, thank goodness they missed my name on that list! Now I can walk the straight and narrow and begin anew by downloading legally at $.99 a pop!

Well folks, I think it's time to say NO to their forty acres and a mule offer and let them know, in no uncertain terms, what their on-line music is worth. No jewel case, no music liners or notes, no photos of your favorite homeboy, girl or southwestern sunset, no professional copying equipment, no refunds or exchanges for bad CD's and no words to all the songs add up to about $.49 a pop on my calculator. I say, sit back, relax and watch the prices drop...and you can bet they will. Wal-Mart, the largest corporation in the world, is taking the lead in lowering prices and I have seen sites advertising music downloads at $.79 per track! If you keep your ear close to the ground, I would be willing to bet you'll hear the sounds of stampeding mules and the clickity-clack of corporate calculators very soon!
Posted by Chris13 (1 comment )
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11 cents: out of whose pockets?
According to Downhill Battle, 11 cents is what the average pop artist makes off of an iTunes sale.

I find the fact that it is exactly an 11 cents difference to be extremely disconcerting.

You should also be aware that unlike the AAC stores (Real Music Store and iTunes), Windows Media has a terrible DRM system.

The license files are not self-contained. Any backup operations have to be done within the Windows Media Player, because there are files in different places on your disk that control whether you can play the song.

In addition, backup features in Windows Media Player probably won't work with the tracks you buy, because backup has to be explicitly turned on by your music store vendor.

Most music stores aren't aware of the backup features of Windows Media Player.

In Real and iTunes, you can burn your tracks to a data CD, and keep them for all time.

You can do anything with an encrypted file from Real and iTunes that you can with a Word processing document.. so long as you login to their servers and have software to play the music files*, you can play the song files anywhere. The "authorization" scheme simply allows you to play your files without being connected to the Internet. Real and iTunes allow you to do that for up to three computers at a time before you have to login again.

To be fair, Windows Media doesn't require a login and password.. I don't think, instead information about your computer is sent to the music store.. a la product activation.. without you explicitly authorizing it. This is called "individualization."

When you play a Windows Media File on a computer you didn't buy it on, you can't burn the file from that computer.

So backups aren't really backups. You lose rights when you transfer files from one computer to the other.

Check your music store to see whether they have solutions for backup that work.

If you've decided that RealPlayer 10 and iTunes sound better, one other caveat. Realplayer 10's store doesn't work with the iPod.

Realplayer 10 is worth downloading and keeping up-to-date though because they are working hard to create one consistent program for handling all your music store files from anywhere. Eventually, you will be able to burn Windows Media files to a data CD, and authorize computers much much easier, and not have files that can't be burned when you transfer files from one computer to the other.

If you purchase from iTunes, you will be able to play the file on any computer that has RealPlayer 10 installed. (The same with Windows Media). The higher quality files from Real, with many more independent artists avaliable, can only be played on Realplayer 10 for Windows or PalmOS and the Creative Zen NX which is a music player only. (it does not have line-in or voice recording.)

Again, watch Real, because I think they have the power to change this mess.

--Sam
Posted by smkatz (38 comments )
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