Starbucks doused by home invasion of music

by Jason Gross

31 May 2006


Just when you think that a coffee company was poised to take over the entertainment world, this happens: Starbucks downscales its Hear Music strategy.  So what went wrong for them?

Starbucks has had roaring success with not just dominating every street corner in every major city but with peddling music. They were responsible for the commercial success of Ray Charles’ Genius Loves Company, his best seller in a long time (though the death factor definitely helped) and also aided groups like Antigone Rising, by having their CD sold at their stores. Now they’re going to be carrying books also. Though it was thought that major retailers like WalMart and Best Buy would be the biggest competition for record stores, the coffee peddlers were definitely in the mix also as major players in this market.

So when Starbucks took the initiative to have downloading stations at their stores so that beverage chuggers could also create their own mix CD from scratch, why didn’t it take off? As the Statesman article above hints, labels, distributors and retailers are still trying to figure out how to best reach the consumer nowadays in terms of pricing, format and availability. It’s also true that it’s easier and more convenient to download songs at home in your own leisure and then put together a mix CD as you please. Some of the problems with doing it at a store are that it’s time-consuming and frankly, doing all that work (picking out songs and their order you want) isn’t necessarily something everyone enjoys doing in public- it’s a very personal activity and despite what some scribes would have you believe, most normal people do have some artists or songs that are guilty pleasures (which they don’t necessarily want the world to know about). It’s not quite the same thing as coming in to relax or energize yourself with a drink or ease back and chat with someone in a cafe or just use their furniture and occasional wi-fi hotspots to do your Net surfing. Also, if something goes wrong with the download system, are all the Starbucks employees trained to fix the music machines? Probably not.

Rest assured, even as I write this, Starbucks is shrugging off this experiment and thinking of a new way to rope in consumers. Their own downloading service you can access on your home machine? Partnership with another company to do that? Offers of free CD with $20 coffee purchase or vice versa (buy so much music and get free coffee). Don’t laugh. No one thought they could make any money selling 5 buck coffee in the first place and they went pretty far with that idea. It’s only a matter of time before other major food chains also try to experiment and hone in on the entertainment industry since it’s becoming such a free-for-all.

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