The following is an open letter to Maverick Records CEO Guy Oseary from Terry Currier, owner of Music Millennium in Portland, Ore.
The March 12 issue of Billboard alerted me that once again the shortsightedness of the recorded-music industry is in full force. According to a cover story in that issue, Maverick is issuing an acoustic remake of Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill,” which initially will be sold only at Starbucks’ 4,500 North American outlets. To give any account in the country an exclusive window to sell an album before its competitors is wrong.
Your statement, “It was important to me that people could get it anywhere. I think regular retail will understand that this is a one-off with Starbucks” was not a well-thought-out remark. I am “regular retail,” and my feelings about the arrangement are 180 degrees away from that. Talking to other retailers during the past few weeks, I can say that most feel the way I do.
Interscope tried this same idea a couple years ago with U2 and Best Buy. What did it accomplish? It drove a great deal of America’s customers away from their regular record stores to Best Buy. It pissed off a lot of retailers, including us. It made it inconvenient for our customers, and at the same time, some stores permanently lost customers.
“Sorry, I know we’re supposed to be the cutting-edge retail store with all the cool stuff, but we can’t sell you the Alanis CD for six more weeks” is not a good enough answer for our customers.
Believe me, they will be aware that the CD is out — as I’m sure you secured an appropriate marketing plan from Starbucks in exchange for the exclusive six-week sales window.
Maybe you don’t care about the fate of our stores. Maybe the fate of the entire industry doesn’t even matter to you. Maybe all that matters is that you can make some quick money on this project and generate some extra publicity that will be sure to spur sales. Or maybe it was just bad decision-making, which can happen to the best of us on occasion. Since I don’t know you personally, it would be unfair for me to judge you.
Is it not the job of the label to promote the artist’s career, instead of singling out a retailer to enhance that retailer’s business-while stepping on every other retailer’s toes?
If this kind of thinking starts happening on a regular basis in the industry, you are going to lose a lot of your biggest supporters-stores like ours. Stores with people who go to work every day to help create the Alanis Morissettes of tomorrow. Stores that embrace bands like Muse, Kings of Leon and the Shins and help turn them into stars. Stores where employees come to work every day for the love of the music and for the chance to tell others about the great music they have discovered.
Selling music in big-box retail and Starbucks can work for a while, until the superstars die off or wane in popularity. Who will be there to develop future stars if you drive our customers away and we decide to throw in the towel? Don’t plan on depending on the media.
We have enough problems dealing with today’s recorded-music climate without this kind of decision-making thrown into the blender, too.
Let’s just look at the cons, because you already know the pros. This business model creates unhappy retailers. Unhappy retailers don’t do much to help the sales story for the album involved. The unhappy feeling could carry over to other Maverick releases, current and future, and possibly to other WEA releases. I don’t think there is much motivation to pick up a record after six weeks and embrace it after that. I do know that we at Music Millennium will be focusing our attention on other releases.
Did you ever think of the customers in South Dakota, who, as of two months ago, did not even have a Starbucks in their state?
You should change your decision on this. You should look at supporting the stores that have been supporting recorded music for a living and have been working with you to break and support your artists.
Starbucks did a great job with Ray Charles, and I commend them. I did a great job with Ray Charles also.
My continuing success as a recorded-music retailer depends a lot on labels and distributors making good, sound decisions.
Starbucks’ continuing success depends on it making a good cup of coffee.
Starbucks can survive the adversity of the music industry . . . stores like us may not.