You may have noticed that Wal-Mart's
I can give Wal-Mart credit for many things, like, say, discount prices. But "cutting-edge" hasn't really jumped to mind in recent history. I have a particularly hard time applying "cutting-edge" to a retailer who stocks cleaned-up versions of albums (provided by the artist or record label), which I always imagined might cause many customers to ask, "What the bleep is this bleep?" when they got their CDs home. It happened to me once, and I haven't bought music from Wal-Mart since. Furthermore, the retail giant won't sell CDs with "parental advisory" stickers.
Apparently there aren't terribly many people who eschew Wal-Mart's squeaky-clean music selection (although many rural communities have few other brick-and-mortar stores from which to buy music, implying that consumers there without computers are kind of stuck buying Wal-Mart's censored versions). The company admittedly has a giant customer base, and that's likely what made it No. 1 in the list of the top 10 music retailers, with such good company as Amazon.com
The new Wal-Mart service, Soundcheck, will give online customers exclusive audio and video content in the form of performances and interviews. First up: Yellowcard and Switchfoot. The content will play for free on Wal-Mart's website, as well as on televisions in the company's stores. In its quest for hipness, Wal-Mart will also have video "viewing events" in some stores on Friday nights, where 30- to 40-minute performances will air. And of course, as always, online Wal-Mart shoppers will be able to purchase tracks from the artists for $0.88 a pop on the site.
Wal-Mart's been peddling digital tunes on its site since 2003 (Fool contributor Jeff Hwang wrote about it when it was still in its infancy), and you don't hear too much about the service and certainly don't get the impression that it's been a massive threat to iTunes, even though it's undercut the iTunes per-song fee by a few cents. Wal-Mart's strength is in selling CDs; although CD sales have lately been flagging, Wal-Mart is one of the most popular outlets for selling them.
Wal-Mart likely isn't seeking domination of the digital music category -- just increased traffic for its site and its stores. A little bit of that hipster shine, which Target has been expertly using to draw in customers, wouldn't hurt, either. It's also a logical extension of its brick-and-mortar music section, lacking in artistic freedom as it may be. Personally, I think that Wal-Mart has an uphill battle in the pursuit of cool, and not just because of its above-mentioned sanitization of music. But I do have to admit that there's a good degree of marketing innovation in the Soundcheck idea.
For other tuneful Foolishness:
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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. Keep your children away from her music.