Wal-Mart debuts low-priced DRM-free tunes

Wal-Mart's music download site joins iTunes and others today and now sells digital music downloads with no anticopying software. Wal-Mart DRM-free tracks will be from Universal and EMI Music. Prices start at 94 cents per track and US$9.22 per album. That's roughly 27 percent cheaper than Apple sells its EMI DRM-Free songs for. A single DRM-free EMI track from iTunes runs $1.29 via iTunes Plus.

DRM (digital rights management) software prevents owners from copying or freely using a digital file across multiple devices. Wal-Mart's DRM-free tracks will also be encoded at a higher sound quality than generally available previously on Wal-Mart. Those with keen ears argue tracks encoded at a higher sound quality sound better.

Wal-Mart shoppers have the option to purchase either a 256kbps MP3-encoded DRM-free song for 94 cents, or the usual 128kbps WMA-encoded DRM-version for 88 cents. ITunes charges $1.29 for 256kbps AAC-encoded DRM-free song and 99 cents for a 128kbps AAC-encoded DRM-version of a song.

EMI artists include Coldplay, The Rolling Stones, Norah Jones, Frank Sinatra, Joss Stone, Pink Floyd, and John Coltrane. Still, no Beatles yet.

I scoured Wal-Mart hunting for DRM-free tracks and like the way the online store makes it easy to spot DRM-free tracks when they are available. Wal-Mart simply labels tracks in search results as either WMA or MP3. By contrast Apple's iTunes makes you set your search preferences to display iTunes Plus content alongside normal search results.

One thing that I was not able to spot on Wal-Mart's online music store is a feature that allows you to upgrade previously downloaded songs to DRM-free status. ITunes charges 30 cents for each song already downloaded or about $3.00 for most albums that you want to update to DRM status.

It also should be noted that stores like eMusic have been offering DRM-free music for years. The selection is limited, however, to recordings by indie labels.

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