Yesterday’s announcement that Wal-Mart would start selling unprotected MP3s from Universal Music Group and EMI on its digital-music site was, on its face, mostly notable for its pricing–94 cents a song, or $9.22 an album. (Digital Music News has a pretty solid analysis of the change in market dynamics that may result from this pricing plan, both on the digital side and the brick-and-mortar side.) But there are a few catches: Not only are the downloads only available to Internet Explorer users, they also serve as a reminder that with Wal-Mart’s prices comes Wal-Mart’s approach to art that may offend the church ladies:
It’s a bit hard to believe that all the customers who shop at the world’s largest retailer want censored versions of music, though, but that’s what they get. Only edited versions of albums with parental advisories are available, just as they are in Wal-Mart’s offline stores. This isn’t a new policy; Wal-Mart’s online music store has carried only edited versions for years, but it’s worth pointing out to potential new users tempted by the lower prices and lack of DRM.
The policy is in contrast to iTunes, which offers both versions for sale and allows users to choose which version they wish to purchase. Wal-Mart has already made the decision for you, though, as part of its corporate policy, and it hits hard in the rap section of the site: six of the top ten rap and hip-hop albums have been edited.
Despite its best efforts, though, Wal-Mart warns users that “the use of the Edited notice does not necessarily mean that all content that all listeners might find objectionable has been removed from the recording.” We’ll have to wait and see whether the company’s practice of selling only edited music will hamper its online efforts.
But wait! It also seems like Wal-Mart is worried about the opposite effects–”All content that all listeners might find objectionable” sounds like they’re also concerned about selling music that’s not edited enough. Right? So are they just going to be caught between a vaguely-defined rock and an even less-mapped-out hard place as a result of their “only selling edited music” strategy, or will that not matter since the interface for their download site is so difficult to use anyway?
Wal-Mart Music Downloads [walmart.com]
World’s largest music retailer ditches DRM, not censorship [Ars Technica]