Wal-Mart does it again!

The music business is known for its reluctance to embrace digital music sales without wrapping said music in horribly restrictive DRM that all too often means that their collection of bought-and-paid-for product will not work with the next generation of players. A classic example of this was when music that was “protected” by Microsoft’s “PlaysforSure” DRM would not work with their new “Zune” music player.

Milady has had an iPod for over a year. My music collection – all legit, I hasten to add – runs to about 26GB. To date we have bought two songs from iTunes.

As you can see, I’m not exactly crazy about DRM.

Once again, Wal-Mart has gone where the music business fears to tread. Until recently they sold only DRM-protected WMA music, which only worked on Windows machines and select WMA-enabled digital music players. The good news is that they have now started offering selling MP3 music downloads on their website. These files will work on your any MP3 player, including both the iPod and the Zune.

The MP3s are 256kbit (good quality, but could be better) and at 94c per file, cost a little more than the 88c WMA downloads, and a lot more than they should be (they should be about half that at most)

After a wander around their website, I see that only a small subset of the WMA files are available as MP3 download – some artists (such as “Madness) have none at all. In addition, a small number are not available in either format – but hopefully the selection available for MP3 download will grow with time.

I still think that $1/song is at least double the price that it should be (buying all the tracks on an album is about the same price as buying the CD), but that’s mostly due to MusicBiz greed – I strongly suspect that Wal-Mart gets only a few pennies per download and they pocket the rest.

It is, however, a huge leap of faith, as the MP3s are unprotected and can be easily shared. If that happens on a large scale, this experiment will fail and the music business’ bleating for more protection from their own customers will gain credibility – so let’s do out bit to make sure that does not happen by supporting legal unprotected MP3s in the marketplace…

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