Alanis Morissette is causing quite a stir north of the border for choosing to sell her latest release, the tenth-anniversary, acoustic version of her blockbuster Jagged Little Pill, exclusively through Starbucks in North America. As of yesterday, the CD is available for its first six weeks only at the coffee chain’s cafes. In response, HMV Canada, that country’s largest record retailer, has removed the native Canadian’s entire catalogue from its shelves.
“It will last for an indeterminate period of time,” says HMV Canada president Humphrey Kadaner, who personally wrote a two-page letter to Morissette explaining HMV’s position. “We have not decided if and or when we might consider restocking Alanis product in our stores, as we will want to gauge the opinions of our consumers.”
The company also boycotted the Rolling Stones’ and Elton John’s products when they respectively struck exclusive DVD arrangements with Best Buy. Online HMV polls revealed that “the vast majority” of respondents felt the chain should not restock the artists, agreeing that the exclusive releases were “unfair to consumers.” Kadaner, who also heads the Retail Music Association of Canada, claims that more than 2,000 customers participated in the surveys.
“For me, it was just about coming up with a creative new way for people to share this music,” Morissette told the Toronto Star. “If people don’t choose to go into a Starbucks and take that few minutes between the time they order a coffee and receive their coffee to focus on music, then they’re welcome to get that music where they typically get it. Or not get it at all. It’s really their choice.” Morissette’s Canadian label Warner Music Canada, which had no say in the Starbucks deal, would not comment on how the exclusive release or the boycott might impact sales.
Starbucks jumped into the music business last year, selling 700,000 copies of Ray Charles posthumous release, Genius Loves Company. The 65,000 copies the chain moved of a subsequent release, Tina Turner’s hits compilation All the Best, helped push the album to Number Two on the chart. Joni Mitchell also put out a collection through Starbucks, and Bob Dylan is currently in talks to exclusively release a coveted series of 1962 live recordings, The Gaslight Tapes, through the company.
But there are signs that the averse response to Morissette’s Starbucks deal may be trickling south. Susan L’ecuyer, senior spokesperson for the National Association of Recording Merchandisers, whose members represent national chains such as Best Buy, Virgin and Wal-Mart, adds, “I’m aware of what Starbucks is doing, and traditionally some segments of the retail community don’t look favorably on those types of practices.” And indeed, in spite of his plans to carry the acoustic Pill in six weeks, John Garcia, head buyer for Amoeba Music’s three outlets in San Francisco, dubs the exclusive release “a little annoying.” Less forgiving is Boston’s Newbury Comics, which is joining HMV Canada in pulling the bulk of Morissette’s catalogue from its twenty-six stores.
“This obnoxiously favors our competition,” says CEO/co-owner Mike Dreese, who now refers to the singer as “persona non grata.” Dreese adds that he signed a letter to Morissette’s U.S. label Maverick expressing Newbury’s displeasure over terms of the release but has not received a response. This is the ultimate disrespect, he says, to a retailer that has supported Maverick’s developing artists.
Morissette is currently on tour through July 17th. Jagged Little Pill Acoustic is available in general release on July 26th.