The Associated Press
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Wal-Mart Stores Inc. launched a bare-bones Web site Thursday to test its new 88-cents-a-song online music service, hoping that its cheaper price will lure listeners from more expensive competitors.
Other sites, such as Apple's iTunes, charge 99 cents a song.
The Wal-Mart site has "hundreds of thousands" of songs, available in Windows Media Audio format, which can be transferred to compatible portable devices, burned to a CD or played on Windows-compatible PCs, Wal-Mart said.
"The test phase for this new service is important to gauge customer feedback, so that we can deliver a quality music downloads service that customers will want to use time and time again," said Walmart.com senior category manager Kevin Swint.
The company plans to see what customers like and don't like about the service in the months ahead and formally launch it in the spring.
Executives at the world's largest retailer are fond of saying that 20 percent of their customers don't have checking accounts. But Swint said 64 percent of Wal-Mart customers are online.
"We see digital music downloads as a natural extension of the music selection offered in Wal-Mart stores," Swint said.
Walmart.com spokeswoman Cynthia Lin would not say what the company's profit expectations are for the service. Wal-Mart is known for doing everything it can to keep down costs. Lin said the company employed that method in developing the music site, but would not say whether it negotiated lower rates for what it pays for songs on the site.
Lin stressed that the site is under development.
"We're excited about testing this music download service. It's a great way to gather customer feedback," she said.
Lin said the Windows format will reach the largest base of customers and that it's user-friendly.
Apple isn't the only competitor. Roxio Inc. and Napster are players in the sector, and Microsoft Corp. is to crowd the field next year when it introduces its own song-downloading service.
Lin said the site will abide by the same content format as found on CD racks in Wal-Mart stores, which don't sell music with content the company deems offensive. On the Web site, the company notes that some songs are flagged as "edited" to denote a song was recorded without offensive lyrics.
On the Net
Walmart.com's music site: http://musicdownloads.walmart.com
Apple's iTunes: http://www.apple.com/itunes
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Wal-Mart offers songs at 88 cents