Tuesday, December 12, 2006

In 2006, Starbucks Adds Buzz to the Book Biz

Starbucks Adds Buzz to the Book Biz

Books and coffee have gone together since long before the chains got hooked on Starbucks. So it made sense when, in August, Starbucks' entertainment division, lead by Ken Lombard, announced that it would begin selling a small number of titles in its 5,400 stores, starting with Mitch Albom's For One More Day.

The move unsettled some booksellers, who were none too happy to see yet another nonbook retailer join the ranks of their competition. But for publishers, getting a book in front of the coffee merchant's 44 million caffeinated customers each week represented a huge opportunity. Even better—Starbucks bought the book nonreturnable. And Starbucks has proved an able bookseller, selling some 70,000 copies of the book since October 3.

When Lombard told PW Daily (Oct. 26) that the next title to be featured at Starbucks is expected to be a debut novel by an unknown writer, he signaled the company's willingness to go beyond brand-name authors like Albom. Considering the typical print run for first novels, just getting a reasonable number of books into every Starbucks outlet would require the publisher to boost the initial run. The retailer won't say whether it plans to continue buying nonreturnable. If it decides to negotiate more traditional terms, the risk of such a printing would fall mainly on the publisher, who could get hit with big returns if an unknown novelist fails to catch coffee-drinkers' attention the way Albom has.

Will publishers be willing to take such a risk? Almost surely, considering the potential payoff. Even if the demands prove too much for some, Starbucks won't lack for options—Lombard says the company "likes the idea of co-publishing" and is setting up a program.

He's already hinting that Starbucks may know how to move books better than the competition. "There's so much dysfunction in entertainment retailing at the moment. With the relationship our baristas have with our customers, we get instant feedback on a product. We have almost an inverted model: finding products to fit our customers, not customers to fit our products," Lombard says.

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