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Music Marketing Author and Course Instructor

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Starbucks Pulling Out of Day-to-Day Management of Hear Music

Posted on 4/26/2008

Hot on the heels of Starbucks warning on Wednesday that they expect their earnings to drop to 15 cents a share (down from 19 cents a year ago) in the fiscal second quarter, Starbucks announced Thursday that they were ceding all management responsibilities for its music label, Hear Music, to its partner, Concord Music Group. Starbucks, which cut about 600 positions in February, is clearly looking for more ways to reduce costs.

"As part of our ongoing transformation, we are committed to examining all aspects of our business that are not directly related to our core," said Howard Schultz, chairman, president and ceo in a press release here. "We have had numerous successes in music and books including eight GRAMMY® Awards and three No.1 books on the New York Times bestseller list. However, now is the appropriate time to restructure our Entertainment business to better align our efforts with our overall business strategies."

Hear Music, founded in 1990, was purchased by the Starbucks in 1999. In 2007, the company partnered with Concord to release Paul McCartney's Memory Almost Full, record, his first non-major label recording. Hear Music has also released music by Dave Matthews Band, Joni Mitchell, Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Simon & Garfunkel, and Wilco.

I'm a fan of alternate retail and distribution outlets, and completely targeted niche-marketing campaigns. But I tend to agree with Mr. Schultz in that perhaps managing Hear Music has interfered with Starbucks core market, and the resulting changes are designed to refocus what they're good at: selling high priced coffee. The fact is that Starbucks/Hear have done some great things for developing artists (including being an instrumental partner in breaking Antigone Rising, whose members are current Berkleemusic students!), but the sales from Starbucks were marginal at best. The New York Times reported last month that on average each Starbucks location sells only two CDs per day!

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