By selling Beck's "Guero" album, Starbucks is stepping up its presence in music beyond the adult-alternative CDs it generally carries. But the company apparently has a way to go before it understands

By selling Beck's "Guero" album, Starbucks is stepping up its presence in music beyond the adult-alternative CDs it generally carries. But the company apparently has a way to go before it understands the practices of the music industry.

Starting Tuesday (March 22), the Interscope album has been put out for sale ahead of its scheduled March 29 street date in isolated Starbucks stores around the United States.

In an informal survey of about 25 Starbucks stores, Billboard.biz found four -- in Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; Seattle; and Madison, Wisc. -- that are selling the album. A clerk at one Portland outlet added, "It's a hot seller." Of the other Starbucks stores polled, most said they would not be selling the album until the official street date, while a few said they would start selling it March 28, the day before street date.

Some retailers are up in arms over the news. Eric Levin, who runs Atlanta's Criminal Records and the Alliance of Independent Media Stores, says he has been in contact with Universal Music & Video Distribution, which has assured him that there is no widespread street-date violation. However, Levin reports that indie store Sonic Boom in Seattle is saying that a Starbucks directly across the street is selling the title.

Sources say UMVD has its hands full between quenching the Starbucks fires and trying to contain traditional merchants from reacting to the violations by putting the album out themselves as soon as they receive it. An executive in the Universal camp says that so far, the Starbucks violations are isolated, and UMVD is on top of the situation by getting those stores to remove the album until street date.

Starbucks and its licensees operate some 6,500 U.S. stores; up to 4,500 of them carry CDs, generally in a very limited SKU count. The company also has kiosks with an expanded music selection in a limited number of stores that allow for in-store burning of CDs and customer-made compilations.

In a statement, a Starbucks spokesperson said, "Starbucks completely understands and respects the importance of street dates. In the case of the new Beck album, 'Guero,' the street date is March 29, 2005. In advance of the album's release, we took a variety of proactive steps to help ensure that the street date would be honored ... Our intent is always to honor street dates and to correct any violations as soon as we become aware of them."

According to a source, Beck's "Guero" arrived at Starbucks outlets in separate shipments than the retailer's other music content. Additionally, the packages were affixed with a large orange sticker instructing store managers not to sell the CD before March 29.

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