Wal-Mart today (March 23) formally launched its online download store. The service, which has been quietly live since December, makes its official bow at Walmart.com with 300,000 songs, including excl

Wal-Mart today (March 23) formally launched its online download store.

The service, which has been quietly live since December, makes its official bow at Walmart.com with 300,000 songs, including exclusive tracks by Jessica Simpson, 3 Doors Down, Black Eyed Peas, Hilary Duff, Shania Twain, Shakira, POD and JC Chasez.

In addition, country label Curb Records is making its songs available in download form exclusively to the Wal-Mart service for the next two months. Curb -- which has not previously released material to any digital service -- is home to Tim McGraw, LeAnn Rimes, Jo Dee Messina and others.

Wal-Mart is also offering exclusives from country acts John Michael Montgomery and Gretchen Wilson, as well as from finalists in Oprah's "Pop-Star Challenge," including contest winner LaShell Griffin.

Downloads are sold in the Windows Media format and cost 88 cents -- cheaper than competitors like Apple, Napster, RealNetworks and MusicMatch.

Like that of all other competitors to Apple iTunes, music from the Wal-Mart service is not directly compatible with the iPod.

Wal-Mart is marketing the service with extensive in-store signage and promotion in its circulars. The retailer is also selling gift cards in its stores and online that can be redeemed for downloads.

As previously reported, the download store was developed in conjunction with Liquid Digital Media, the digital-music services arm of Anderson Merchandisers.

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