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Apple out-muscles Wal-mart to become No. 1 US music retailer

Apple confirmed Thursday that the iTunes Store has surpassed Wal-Mart to become the number one music retailer in the US, based on the latest data from the NPD Group. [Updated with info from Apple press release.]

“We launched iTunes less than five years ago, and it has now become the number one music retailer in the world,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of iTunes said in a statement. “We are thrilled, and would like to thank all of our customers for helping us reach this incredible milestone.”

NPD ranks music retailers based on data from its MusicWatch survey that captures consumer reported past week unit purchases and counts one CD representing 12 tracks, excluding wireless transactions. The iTunes Store became the largest music retailer in the US based on the amount of music sold during January and February 2008.

The announcement confirms an earlier report from ArsTechnica which revealed that the iTunes operator garnered a 19 percent share of all US-based retail music sales in January, good enough to push it past industry leader Wal-Mart, which captured a 15 percent share for the same period.

Apple's surge to the No. 1 spot comes just one month after the company reported passing Best Buy to become the No. 2 US music retailer.

What's of particular interest from Ars's earlier report is that it includes an NPD chart of the top 10 music retailers from January with their associated share of the market. NPD declined to release those specific share percentages back in February when Apple definitively claimed the No. 2 spot.

US music retailer rankings for one week in January | Source: ArsTechnica

Not only does the chart reveal Amazon to be a distant fourth in the rankings behind Apple, Wal-mart, and Best Buy with its 6 percent share, it more importantly shows the approximate level of separation between the top players.