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The Week Ahead

'Pill' sales deal hard to swallow for some

July 25, 2005|Randy Lewis

"Jagged Little Pill Acoustic," Alanis Morissette's revisionist look at her breakthrough 1995 album, hits retails stores Tuesday, but it is shaping up as one of the most uneventful releases of an "event" record in history.

That's because Morissette's label, Maverick Records, struck a deal to put it exclusively in Starbucks locations for six weeks before its release to other retailers, a move that has left more than the taste of bitter coffee grounds in the mouths of many retailers.

"We're going to carry it, but we won't be marketing it or promoting it," says Bob Feterl, Tower Records' Southwest regional director.

"You won't see it in store windows, it won't be in our ad and we won't be putting it on sale."

Since Starbucks began selling "Jagged Little Pill Acoustic" in June, it's sold fewer than 200,000 copies, according to Billboard charts director Geoff Mayfield.

"I thought it might have sold more than that," he said. "She did some high-profile appearances, she did '20/20' .... I thought it might do better."

Although some music retailers in Morissette's native Canada have said they will refuse to stock the album once the Starbucks exclusive ends, there hasn't been any widespread campaign to do so, according to Mayfield.

"I haven't heard the widespread grumbling that I thought we would," he said. "That said, I'm sure people are not thrilled."

Yet, "it's safe to say that the entrance of Starbucks into the music market has expanded the pie," Mayfield said.

"It's brought music to a lot of people who may not be as comfortable or in the habit of going to conventional music stores. Almost 25% of the Ray Charles ['Genius Loves Company'] album got sold at Starbucks." Sales on that posthumous album of all-star duets with the late soul singer has reached nearly 3 million.

Mayfield added that first-week sales of albums by Carole King and Italian pop-rock star Zucchero, both of which went on sale last week at Starbucks and other retailers, were particularly strong at the chain of coffee shops.

Retailers, nevertheless, have remained uneasy about preferential treatment to one merchant since the Rolling Stones and Elton John granted short-term exclusives to the Best Buy chain for multi-DVD live packages last year.

"This is not the same," Feterl concedes. "At Best Buy, they're gonna market it like crazy. Starbucks doesn't do that. They just put the albums out there. But the bottom line is, we'd like to see a level playing field."

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-- Randy Lewis

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