The next time you walk into a Starbucks, listen carefully. The music you hear may not depart too radically from the usual Starbucks vibe, but it will be noteworthy nonetheless. That sound you hear? It's the death knell of the compact disc, making way for the on-demand, streaming-centric future of music.
Today, Starbucks is launching its previously announced in-store integration with Spotify. Under the new partnership, over 7,500 Starbucks stores in the U.S. will stream playlists hand-built by Starbucks's music curation team. For customers, the sonic experience of stepping into a Starbucks will get more interactive.
Here's how it works: Say you're standing in line for your morning latte, wondering if the barista spelled your name right. Overhead, you hear a familiar-sounding song, but you can't quite place it. In fact, the last song they played sounded like something you'd be into as well. Starting today, you can pull out your iPhone and, using the Starbucks app, discover what music has been playing. (The same app also serves as a rapid mobile payment option.)
There are more than 500 tracks on Starbucks's "Coffeehouse" playlist. The collection of songs, which includes 33 hours of music, is just one of 19 Spotify playlists curated by Starbucks. If you like what you're hearing, you can save any of these playlists to your own Spotify account, thanks to a deep integration built by Spotify and the Starbucks digital team.
This is the first Spotify integration that merges its digital platform with physical spaces, at least on this scale. For Spotify, it's a big win: Not only is its service (and brand) being put in front of millions of potentially new subscribers, but those people can interact with it, taking a digital artifact with them if they so desire. The Starbucks app has 16 million monthly users in the U.S, according to the company. Spotify, meanwhile, has 75 million active users as of June 2015.
The partnership is yet another sign of the music industry's shift toward an on-demand streaming model. Last year, we had the launch of Apple Music and the arrival of The Beatles on all the major streaming services. Starbucks, which Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore once half-seriously referred to as "the new record store," stopped selling CDs in its stores last year. Now instead of buying a disc of music, you can take a playlist with you for free.
So what's in this deal for Starbucks? For starters, it helps further the company's image as an innovative retailer. This not the first time Starbucks has partnered with a tech startup: The company famously had an in-store integration with Square for mobile payments before the partnership dissolved in late 2014. Also, to the extent that people are interested in the music playing in Starbucks's stores, this features offers a new reason for people to launch the Starbucks loyalty and payment app—or download it in the first place.
Starbucks baristas have minimal control over the music playing in the stores. Employees, which have their own proprietary app to use in-store, can adjust the volume and select from different playlists, but can't skip songs or add their own. The company is looking at ways to ease those restrictions in the long run, I'm told.
Although customers cannot yet influence the music being played in stores, you can see how that might change in the future: In addition to saving playlists, customers can share tracks on Facebook and Twitter or tap a "like" button on each song within the app. Over time, presuming the feature is used widely enough, this creates a new pipeline of data about customers' music preferences.