- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Listen, I’m as intuitively creeped out by market-Stalinist companies like Apple and Starbucks as anyone. But I think New Republic music critic David Hadju is a little, well, overcaffeinated when he writes of the latter:

Last year, Starbucks sold 3.5 million CDs, many of them albums conceived, produced, and marketed with such authoritarian rigor and with such a narrow conception of their listeners’ good that they represent nothing less than the return of state-sponsored music.

I wrote about Starbucks’ foray into music retailing a while ago, and tried to imagine where the trend might lead. Cutting-edge hip-hop and R&B; at Urban Outfitters? Death metal at goth clothiers?

But, from what I see at my local Starbucks (yes, I go there; and someone finally bought me an iPod — I deserve to be publicly flogged for such perfidy, I know), the company is already losing the distinctiveness of taste it so coldly pursues. Starbucks now pushes not just great niche stuff like the new Neko Case album, but the new Tom Petty as well. And it’s now showcasing classic LPs such as “Revolver” and “Who’s Next.” The wider Starbucks opens up its musical floodgates, the less meaningful its stamp of approval will be.

More, importantly, there’s the paltry sales figure of 3.5 million CDs. For a chain with as many franchises as Starbucks — 8,000 in the U.S. alone — that’s not even small change. Anecdotally, it makes sense too: I never notice anyone even glancing at the CD rack when I go, and the only person I know who’s ever bought a disc there is … me.

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