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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I'll have a Tall Vanilla Bean Frappuccino, a blueberry muffin and . . . a CD?

Something that caught my eye while I was at a nearby Starbucks last week was their ever-growing selection of CDs for sale. The coffee chain has been selling CDs for a few years now with their Hear Music catalog, but it wasn't until last week that I thought that the pairing was really odd. I can understand the bags of coffee beans and kitchen stuff also for sale, but why music too?

I'm still in the dark as to why the selling of lifestyles is more frequent than just individual products. This isn't just with Starbucks -- this is everywhere. Starbucks makes great coffee, tea and desserts, so what more can they accomplish by also selling music? Are they trying to up the ante with impulse buys? Sorry, but if I want to buy a CD, it's not going to be at a Starbucks.

I will admit it flat-out: I'm not a regular Starbucks customer. I've been to Starbucks three times this year and two of these times were for meet-ups. The atmosphere is great for meet-ups with friends, so I hope to go back to the place in the future. The third time was to save my ass from falling asleep at the wheel as I pulled an early-morning marathon shift split between two cities that were thirty minutes apart. Each time, the black tea I had was great, but still, I'm not a regular inhabitant of the place. In other words, I'm really in the dark as to what their motives are with selling something else other than orally-consumed products.

When I walk into a Starbucks, I definitely get a yuppie-ish kind of vibe. I don't think I'm abandoning punk rock ideologies by going to a place like this, but it's definitely not a place I'm going to hit up everyday. With this kind of vibe dripping out of the place, I'm assuming that they're trying to tap more into the yuppie lifestyle with selling music. The place even has an XM channel devoted to them, playing (from what I remember) a lot of good, old-time jazz. Yet what more are they gaining by selling those Artist Choice collections along with a grab-bag of popular albums?

Every few months, Rolling Stone will publish an article about how CD sales keep decreasing during every sales quarter. The overall tone from the major labels is total despair, despite the monumental increases in MP3 sales. The selling of individual MP3s isn't the kind of moneymaker that individual CDs can bring, so there is still considerable panic. How Starbucks fits into this makes me wonder: are we heading towards a day and age when CDs are more likely to be found in a place like Starbucks rather than a chain store that sells electronics?

I highly doubt that CDs and vinyl will vanish completely from stores, but seeing as how outlets like Best Buy have greatly reduced the number of CDs that they carry, I think CDs are about to become specialty items, just like vinyl has been for almost twenty years. I don't care how much of an old fogie I sound by saying this, but having MP3s on a hard drive is not the same as having songs on a proper, non-CD-R CD. CDs are way less disposable documents than a few megs of virtual space.

Maybe Starbucks is being really smart about where the music industry is heading. Yet for me, when I want to talk to a clerk about music, it doesn't seem like the most apt place. I like seeing the regular guys and girls at the local CD stores who rave about music, because they treat music as more than just a product. This isn't background music for them. This isn't the soundtrack to a mass-marketed lifestyle. You could say this is a losing battle, but as long as they're around, I'll come in and give them my time and money. With Starbucks, I have my own completely different reasons for patronage.

6 comments:

Treblephone said...

Dovetailing into this subject matter, did you catch the news that all the major labels have halted shipments to the Tower chain? Sad.


Point to ponder: the overwhelming success of Ray Charles' "Genius Loves Company" album was attributed, in part, to it being carried in.....Starbucks.

I will say this: they have put together some nice compilations, and did a Beach Boys CD which----for once----did not concentrate on the hits, but focused on their mostly unheard-by-the-public-at-large work from the late 60's-70s.

Rj said...

Well I had heard that there were discussions of actually having download stations for music at starbucks stores. So you could just plug in your iPod and download songs for a fee.

Why is starbucks interested in selling cd's? well, they are selling culture. They play non-offensive music, and even world music to seem like they have some sort of culture. When they are just a business, and the bottom line is the reason to be open. They were already playing music, and I'm sure they thought "why not make money from this". The price they sell a cd for is usually twice the price they pay to get it in the store.

They are trying to market to business people. They make their coffee strong as hell to keep the automatons awake during the day. They'll sell them a Cd because they know that most business people will not have the time to stop at a music store to buy a cd.

Starbucks is a cool place to the masses. With it's expensive fancy coffee. I really think that most people that hang out at starbucks do it for status.

I used to work for Barnes and Noble, and we were the only "starbucks" in my college town. Most of the clientele had never been in a real cafe/coffee house before.

Eric Grubbs said...

Richard (treblephone):
I indeed heard about the Tower situation. Kinda sucks, but then again, the labels have good reasons to stop their shipments.

Ryan (rj):
Points well taken. Most of the world is run by caffeinated zombies and Starbucks put a name and a logo to it. Yikes!

Treblephone said...

Er, actually that's Jimmy! :)

Yes, they do....gotta pay your bills!

Eric Grubbs said...

Whoops! Points off . . .

Kev said...

First off, as you know, I am a big Starbucks fan--one who likes the products as well as the "hang" aspect of the place. I was never surprised when they started selling CD's, because they've always had music going in there (which has often been jazz--yay), and I'm sure a lot of people would ask them what some tune was and where they could find it...voila, new business opportunity. One of the first CD's they ever sold was a jazz compliation from Blue Note Records that was sold in conjunction with the release of a new coffee flavor called "Blue Note Blend." I haven't seen the coffee in a while, but nearly ten years later, I still have the CD.

Treblephone--I can't say as though I'm too surprised about the Tower situation; as much as I liked their selection, the CD's were just Too Dang Expensive most of the time.

RJ--I've actually seen a Starbucks in Round Rock with one of those "download stations" that you mentioned.

And Eric, I'm with you in the old-school realm on this one--despite the convenience of downloading, I still like to have an actual CD in my hands (with the credits, cover art, etc.) most of the time. The stuff I've bought off download sites is usually just something that's either really rare or isn't likely to be listened to in the car.