Guess I owe Howard Schultz a thank you for helping me cut back on CD purchases … Starbucks is dramatically reducing the number of CDs carried in its stores, promising to remove the rotating racks from 6,500 locations by September. Instead, a spokesman told the Seattle Times the company will focus on promoting four CDs in front of the main cash registers. Peter Kafka first reported the pullback early Wednesday, including iTunes in the items being removed. But the company told the Times it will continue to sell iTunes gift cards and digital album cards in the stores. I’m not sure how many people would really notice if the iTunes free weekly song promos end — I see piles of leftover cards in every location I visit.
The Times call it “an incremental move in Starbucks’ effort to return to its coffee core” — but that would ring a tad truer if it didn’t come as the chain starts the major promotion for its non-coffee summer drinks like blended lemonade and protein smoothies. More accurately, it’s a return to an emphasis on what people drink, and by extension what they eat, rather than what they listen to or read. (Who knows? The newspaper racks could be next.) Whatever the actual economics for the CDs, entertainment serves as the symbol of what went wrong with Starbucks and why Schultz had to return as CEO.
No word yet on what happens to the small cadre — fewer than 10 — in Seattle and LA the Times says is responsible for picking the CDs, creating the compilations and selecting the soundtracks that play in stores. For me, buying music at Starbucks has never been about the major releases — Coldplay’s latest is in front of the register now — but about the quirky genre or topic compilations, the re-releases and the series of artists’ own favorites. The real compilation aficionado in my house wants to know when the markdowns start.