I wasn’t fortunate enough to be in Seattle or New York today, the initial two cities selected for the launch of the iTunes / Starbucks wifi store. The news is that the user experience is smooth, even if there were a few initial glitches along with one usability complaint reported by this reviewer. Frankly I am not surprised that there were a few glitches with this one. The baristas pull a mean espresso, but I doubt the T-Mobile gear has on-site expertise.
I think this is a brilliant move for both Starbucks and Apple. Starbucks has been aspiring for a few years now to become a third place, somewhere we can all just go and hang out between home and work. It has wifi, unlimited use of its couches, comfy chairs, working desks, and a supply of coffee and sweets limited only by the balance on one of your plastic cards.
And of course Starbucks is monetizing this third place. Now it is looking to expand its access to a market segment totally distinct from coffee and sweets: music distribution. But why create another HMV or Virgin Record store? Instead, it is serving up iTunes Store for free through its T-Mobile wifi connections. I need to dig for some info on the relative monetary value projected for music vs. coffee. Please send me a note if you have any info or links to such info.
I still get noticed when I pull out my iPhone and take a picture, check my mail, or just call someone. But today I was wishing that Apple and Starbucks had chosen the San Francisco bay area to launch its partnership, and I would have been there to write up the experience. It wasn’t to be.
Instead, I was in Monterey today, and went into Starbucks to tease the baristas for not being among the launch stores. As they were making my espresso macchiato, I discovered yet another co-marketing action: The Digital Release!
Here’s the concept: Starbucks promotes a shiny card looking like a CD cover, which is actually a coupon you can purchase at Starbucks to allow you to go home (or to your laptop in the store) and redeem the coupon for an album at the iTunes Store. Here are a couple of pictures of the cards I bought.
Not having my laptop with me, and not being able to use the iTunes store on my iPhone, I waited until I got back to Belmont, and typed in the code for KT Tungstall, Drastic Fantastic. I’m listening to Hopeless now as I type.
Will this method of distribution work? I’m skeptical. What is the benefit for the buyer of these shiny little cards? I had to buy one. OK, I bought two. It’s a business expense for me to check out the workflow, test out the concept, and write about it. 😉 Not sure my partners would agree, but after all I only spent $25.
But here’s the thing. I don’t get anything extra by buying this card versus just buying the Deluxe version of the same album on iTunes. So really the only thing this little card does is to serve as an advertisement for this particular album, and perhaps an ad for purchasing digital music. But if I want the next album they advertise, I likely won’t buy the card. I could lose the card before I got to my laptop.
Maybe I am missing the point? Maybe Starbucks gets a larger cut for the shiny cards because it can say that it legitimately influenced the purchase. Or perhaps it allows Starbucks to advertise more “Starbucky music” with less cost of materials. But these all seem like benefits to the seller, not to the buyer.
I don’t think there is much future for the shiny little cards. I will of course keep mine in a safe place to show my kids years from now, alongside the 8 tracks, cassette tapes, and vinyl records ,and even CDs and DVDs that they will laugh at in a few years. Perhaps I have in my possession one of the rarest forms of music distribution ever! Seriously, I don’t think it will last. But I’ll be watching, and I hope you’ll let me know if you disagree.
But iTunes Store over wifi? That will be a huge win. If only I could get myself to a city where they offer it this month.