Wal-Mart enters music download business

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. officially launched an online music store it began testing in December, joining an increasingly crowded field of vendors that are selling songs over the Internet.

The Wal-Mart service, called Music Downloads and located in a section of the company's Web site at http://musicdownloads.walmart.com, sells individual songs for US$0.88 each from a music catalog that has been expanded by 50 percent since the store went online in testing mode in December. Prices for entire albums vary.

Wal-Mart didn't say in a press release Tuesday how many songs its catalog offers, but it touted a number of exclusives, such as the catalog of Curb Records, which includes country music stars Tim McGraw and LeAnn Rimes. Curb Records is making its songs available online for the first time at the Wal-Mart store, an exclusive arrangement scheduled to last two months, Wal-Mart said. The store also features exclusive songs from artists such as Jessica Simpson, Shakira, Black Eyed Peas and Shania Twain, Wal-Mart said.

Since December, the music store's download interface and search engine have been enhanced and simplified. Wal-Mart also provides around-the-clock e-mail and phone customer support for its music store shoppers.

Wal-Mart joins a market with razor-thin margins that is led by Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes music store and includes other competitors such as RealNetworks Inc. and Roxio Inc.'s Napster LLC.