Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Would you like a book with that?

Back in January, when Starbucks announced it would begin selling books in its 5,400 U.S. stores, publishers everywhere rubbed their hands in glee and reached for their telephones. Starbucks was inundated with offers, but they brushed them all off when they heard Mitch Albom would soon have a new novel out. That would be a perfect offering with the lattes, they thought, so they called Mr. Albom's people and did the deal.

Now, according to yesterday's article in the Los Angeles Times, some of those eager publishers are pouting over the decision:

Starbucks "put out the word at first that they would be heralding new voices, but now they've picked something very safe and not very controversial, which is probably what we should have expected in the first place," said a prominent publisher who asked anonymity, noting that his company still wanted to do business with the coffee seller. "My guess is, if this program survives, they'll be picking books that sell quite well and let others gamble on new, lesser-known authors."

I'm glad this publisher spoke on condition of anonymity because he or she couldn't have come off sounding any more stupid and jealous. Starbucks is a coffee store. Why on earth would they risk offending any of their customers by selling "controversial" books? And where would anyone have picked up the idea that Starbucks was eager to "gamble" on new authors?

Whatever I might think of Mitch Albom (okay, his writing's a little smarmy), his new book was a good choice for Starbucks. People know Albom's name, and nobody's likely to be offended when they see his book for sale next to those little sacks of coffee beans. Nobody, that is, except for the publishers who didn't get asked to the dance.

Since Starbucks began selling music CDs, I've bought a few there. If I'm in just the right mood when I spot something new next to the cash register, I'll buy a CD along with my venti latte. And so it will be with books. That's why, when Starbucks announced back in January that it wanted to offer books by new and unknown authors, I knew exactly what they were talking about: they were looking for quirky, inoffensive, accessible little reads--in other words, books ordinary customers like me might pick up on an impulse. Unfortunately, some in the pack of salivating publishers appeared to believe Starbucks was talking about peddling some fairly "literary" books. But when those books don't exactly sell like hotcakes at bookstores, why should anyone imagine they might sell at Starbucks?

Okay, so Mitch Albom isn't a new or unknown author. But nobody does quirky, inoffensive and accessible like Albom, so this was a smart choice. Maybe we'll see a new author next time. But maybe those who are complaining about this "disappointing selection" by Starbucks should be reminded that this has always been about selling coffee, not books

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Katrina Stonoff said...

The thing that disappointed me most about Starbucks was that they are only offering one book initially. There isn't any one book that will appeal to even half of any group of people, I don't think. I wish they'd selected, oh, maybe six or so.

Shelley said...

We have one Starbucks in the city in which I reside. It's not in my area of town so I don't get there. However, we do have a huge chain of Tim Horton's all over the city and that is close. So, that's where I get my coffee when I feel the need to get one.

Anyway, as soon as I read that publisher say "controversial" books, my gut reaction was 'Why on earth would they want a controversial book?' I mean if you are going to offend people that could mean a possible loss of future business, by new and/or old customers. I would think the last thing Starbucks would want to do is offend customers who buy their product and risk losing sales. If I were the owner of a Starbucks I would not want to do that.

I think Katrina makes a good point. It might be nice if they offered a few books at the same time to give a little bit of a selection.

Brenda Coulter said...

Starbucks' plan was never to offer a whole rack of books. They just want one or two to park by the cash registers so people who are waiting for their cappuccinos might browse for a minute and then decide to buy. They sell audio CDs the same way--and I've never seen more than three different CDs for sale at any one time.