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Starbucks readies music download service

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When Apple CEO Steve Jobs launched the company's iTunes Music Store, he compared each song's 99c price tag with the cost of a latte. The coffee analogy has proved oddly prescient, since Apple may soon be serving up song downloads to Starbucks customers.

Next Tuesday, the coffee shop chain will announce its intention to launch an in-store music download service, BusinessWeek reports today. Starbucks calls the service "a completely new retail experience" and "represents a breakthrough for music consumers, providing them with enhanced music customization, greater convenience and new ways to discover emerging artists".

Its partner is HP, which will be providing a stack of tablet PCs punters can use to select songs, play them and even burn them to CD. It's also providing server infrastructure and printers for label art, apparently.

Presumably all this will happen over the store's wireless network, courtesy of Starbucks' deal with T-Mobile.

The Apple connection is provided by HP, which will this summer launch branded iPods and an online music store that is basically ITMS with an HP-branded front end. None of the companies concerned have commented on the relationship, but it's certainly tempting to view the new service as a tri-partite program.

The first Starbucks site to offer the download service will apparently be located in Santa Monica. The service will be rolled out across 2500 further sites over the next two years, the company said. Prices will match those at ITMS, though there's a minimum purchase of five songs. Five songs cost $6.99, while albums will cost $12.95.

Starbucks is essentially pitching itself against high street record retailers. Why buy CDs in Virgin or Tower when you can create your own compilations while you're enjoying your coffee? it asks. Certainly Starbucks' weekly customer count of around 30 million individuals provides a far greater walk-through than any record store gets.

The potential downside is that the stores are being branded as HearMusic, the small record shop chain Starbucks acquired five years ago. The chain currently has five HearMusic music shops running, including the one offering the download service. ®

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