Can I get my book with a double shot of espresso please?
I've been getting a hoot out of Doonesbury this week, which featured Jackson Brown prototype Jimmy Thudpucker being interviewed about his latest album on the Burger King label. Obviously (at least to those of us who spend a large share of our waking hours mainlining coffee at the satellite office) that this was a backhanded homage to the Paul McCartney album released by Starbucks this week.
Some people are very touchy about Starbucks as a venue for marketing books and music. Isn't it a little whorish to sell art alongside biscotti and frappacinos? Mustn't we at all costs preserve the sheen of oh I'm above all that I'm an artist and avoid any whiff of would you like fries with that?
My only problem with the McCartney marketing is this photo, which my daughter Jerusha pointed out looks kinda like Zoolander. I mean...McCartney:
Okay, that's pretty cheesy, and if there's anyone in the world who didn't need to stoop to that, it was McCartney. The guy has more money than the gross combined incomes of God, Trump, and Lichtenstein. On the other hand, one of the things I love about Starbucks is the music I hear while I'm there, and I'd be a big fat liar to pretend that it hasn't influenced my music purchases. In fact, of the last ten CDs I've purchased, six were from the artists themselves on the street and the other four still smell faintly of sugar free hazelnut latte. Starbucks does a lot to promote artists who don't get airplay or attention elsewhere.
Last year, they decided to try extending that dynamic to books, and a lot of folks in the publishing industry reacted like baristas were adding a dollop of blenderized baby to every soy chai. But for my taste, seeing the progressive, socially responsible Starbucks corporation get into the game is a lot less troubling than what we've seen of the hyper-conservative, price-depressing WalMart effect.
They started with a sure-fire commercial success by Mitch Albom as a way of retraining customers. C'mon, little turtle ears. Don't be scared. You can come to a book reading and your nose won't bleed a bit. Then they came out with Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, and that campaign included author appearances and a whopping $2 per copy donation to UNICEF. Please, somebody, explain to me how this is a bad thing.
Bottom line, I like what Starbucks does, and I hope they do come to have an influence on the publishing industry, because the publishing industry could use an infusion of latte-based values. When Jerusha became a Starbucks barista, I was blown away by what I learned about the corporate soul of Starbucks. While entities like WalMart club third world economies like baby seals, Starbucks brings their considerable influence to impoverished coffee-growing regions in a humane, moral, and uplifting way with a "rising tide floats all boats" philosophy.
That kind of corporate conscience would be an enormous gift to authors like me, who know all too well that there are worse fates than looking like Zoolander.