Watch for falling music download prices

Wal-Mart marches into the crowded marketplace of online music stores with songs priced at 88 cents each.

Wal-Mart Stores is bringing cut-rate prices to the ever-more-crowded world of online music.

On Tuesday, the mammoth chain retailer formally opened its online music store, from which customers can download music at 88 cents per song. That's 11 cents less than Apple Computer charges at its iTunes music store, which has been the pacesetter on this e-commerce track.

The Wal-Mart service allows customers to play downloaded music on Windows PCs, to burn songs to a CD or to transfer music to portable devices. Usage rights are uniform across the company's catalog of music. The retailer began testing the service in December and is working in partnership with Liquid Digital Media, formerly Liquid Audio.

The service includes a "download manager" designed to help customers retrieve full albums and groups of songs.

There's no shortage of companies that want to be the outlet for consumers looking to acquire songs online. Besides Apple, which last month said it was selling approximately 2.5 million downloads per week, the competition includes MusicMatch and the reborn Napster. Microsoft plans to enter the fray in the second half of the year.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart said it has an exclusive two-month deal with Curb Records, whose country music stars include Tim McGraw, LeAnn Rimes and Jodee Messina.

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