Thursday, November 02, 2006

Lattes and Books

The other day, an article came out in The Seattle News about Starbucks new literary salon program. Remember when Starbucks promoted the movie Akeelah and the Bee? Now they’re trying the same thing, only with authors.

As their first author, they chose Mitch Albom, best-selling author of Tuesdays With Morrie and the new book For One More Day. No, he’s not going to little Starbucks stores and reading to ten patrons slurping mocha lattes. We’re talking 600 employees at Starbucks’ corporate headquarters and fans at the Palace Ballroom in Belltown. We’re talking free lattes and a catered crostini bar. [I had to google that one.]

At first glance, you might think, wow, that’s great. He sells books, readers have a fun experience and get to learn about an author they may not have read before, Starbucks promotes reading and literacy. I want to be the next author they choose.

But there is controversy. Bookstores, especially independents who depend on “big” names to visit their stores and sell books aren’t just overjoyed at this idea. They lose business. And a lot of bookstores are already losing business to Internet sales.

Starbucks doesn’t plan to just stop at promoting select authors. They’re looking into publishing books. And you may have heard recently Starbucks is not content with a store on every other corner. They plan to double the number of stores they have now. I’d call them the Walmart of coffee, but have you paid for a latte lately? No little yellow smiley face chopping prices there.

But my annoyance at the price of a venti non-fat chai aside, is this a good thing for authors? And as a disclaimer, I should mention my son is a barista at a Starbucks. They may be taking over the world, but at least they offer even the part-time employees health insurance. Now, I’d like to see them take on a new unknown author. And saying “There's so much talent out there, and they can't find a publisher. It'd be a great service for emerging authors.” is just lip-service. Especially when Starbucks’ chairman follows that by saying they have someone at William Morris reading scripts and treatments, looking for emerging talent. William Morris has a history of not even opening query letters from writers who aren’t already celebrities or friends of celebrities or clients.

Is this a massive corporation partnering with an exclusive literary agency to promote themselves and celebrity authors? Or the grassroots of something beneficial to writers everywhere?

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