Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Wal-Mart Launches DRM-free Music Downloads

Wal-Mart has joined the ranks of the, ahem, unprotected. Joining other sites such as Amazon.com and iTunes, Wal-Mart has begun selling MP3 downloads, free of DRM, on its website. Unlike iTunes, which charges a premium for DRM-free music, and more in-line with Amazon.com, Wal-Mart's DRM-free tracks don't have a surcharge. Prices will be as follows: MP3-format downloads at 256 kbps for 94¢ / song and/or WMA-format downloads at 128 kbps for 88¢ / song. Albums will be priced at $9.22.

From the press release:
"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," said Kevin Swint, Wal-Mart's senior director and divisional manager for digital media. "Also, we're excited to launch our MP3 catalog with major record labels such as Universal and EMI Music that includes music from popular artists like The Rolling Stones, Coldplay, KT Tunstall, Amy Winehouse, Maroon 5, George Strait and Nelly."
As more retailers and studios "see the light" and sign up for DRM-free music, are we entering the "golden age" of downloadable music? First, big labels like Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group still are "testing the waters" and have not signed up for DRM-free downloads - yet. Additionally, audiophiles would say "no" based on the quality of the music, as MP3s lose much of the fidelity of the original music.

Still, DRM-free music is much better than music with DRM that acts as a rootkit (ahem, Sony) or makes us jump through hoops to play it on our MP3 players or stereos. Much as I hate to applaud anything Wal-Mart does, I have to applaud this - but more as an industry move than a Wal-Mart move.

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