UPDATE 1-Apple says iTunes now top U.S. music retailer
(Adds announcement of rival MySpace service, share price)
SAN FRANCISCO, April 3 (Reuters) - Apple Inc (AAPL.O) said on Thursday its iTunes online music store has surpassed Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) to become the largest music retailer in the United States.
Apple's statement, citing industry data, came on the same day that iTunes faced a new challenge as News Corp's NWSa.N MySpace social networking site said it had formed an online music venture with three record labels.
Apple said its announcement was based on consumer data collected in January and February by market research firm NPD that counted 12 songs being equal to one CD.
In February, NPD said iTunes overtook Best Buy Co (BBY.N) and Target Corp (TGT.N) in 2007 to become the No. 2 U.S. music seller.
Apple, which makes iPod media players, Macintosh computers and the iPhone, said iTunes had 50 million customers who had bought more than 4 billion songs since the store opened five years ago.
Shares in Apple rose 2.8 percent to close at $151.61 amid a 1.9 percent gain in the broader Nasdaq market. The stock is about 25 percent below its all-time high hit in December, but has risen 25 percent in the last month amid signs consumer worries over the economy have not dampened Apple's sales. (Reporting by Scott Hillis; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)
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