The CDs on the display shelves strategically placed next to the check-out line have long been a familiar sight. But what’s this…a table with artfully displayed copies of a new book, a sign encouraging the Starbucks customers to look for this book in local bookstores, and bookmarks with a brief description of the plot and discussion topics relevant to the book. I guess it shouldn’t seem too out of place for me. After all, I met my husband at an art show in a cafe (not Starbucks), and I’ve heard of musicians gigging at the cafe around the corner from where I used to live. The ancient Chinese talk politics in tea houses decorated with traditional Chinese paintings and calligraphy, and the Japanese had geisha’s songs and dances in their tea houses, too. It is then not too surprising that the western coffee houses also present themselves as the ushers of fine taste. And why not? Judging from people I meet in these places, drinking a cup of Joe is usually not an end in itself; rather, people with their cafe mocha or latte are engrossed in their books and newspapers, with legs crossed British style or curling up on the eggplant colored sofa. Drinking a favorite drink, listening to music, and reading are perfect companions. And Starbucks has narrowed down the choices for its customers.
Affiliate marketing after all is very popular these days. We trust the suggestions of someone we already like. The hair products my hairdresser recommended tend to be the ones I reach for on the store shelves. Starbucks likewise has boosted CD sales and raised the profiles of lesser known musicians. It’s mutually beneficial for the cafe and the artists – in fact, for Starbucks customers as well. We don’t have to read the books they recommend. But at least we know before we pick up the books who the target audience is.