posted by February 27 at 16:05 PMon
I ran across this nice story in the LA Times about Ishmael Beah, a young writer whose memoir of being a child soldier in the Sierra Leone civil war has become the second book Starbucks had decided to sell:
And now, with Starbucks’ decision to promote and sell his book in more than 6,000 stores, the 26-year-old author has been thrust into the role of spokesman for child soldiers worldwide. He’s become an overnight celebrity, with a 10-city book tour scheduled for the coffee chain. In a life filled with some truly shocking reversals, this new chapter may be just about the last thing he ever expected
I’d guess not. From his soldier days 14 years ago:
The boys were given AK-47s, amphetamines and endless doses of “brown brown,” a mixture of cocaine and gunpowder, to keep them fighting for days at a time.
“Oh that’s nice,” I thought. “They’re giving a new writer a shot and kicking that disingenuous twit Mitch Tuesdays-With-Morrie Albom off the shelves. Good for Starbucks.” (If you’re interested, you can read why I think Albom is a manipulative writer who inoculates himself against criticism here. The article is about the play adaptation of Tuesdays, but my beef counts for his book, too.)
And then the inevitable cynicism: Starbucks is obsessively image-conscious. Why did they choose a young, unknown author with a not-at-all-uplifting story instead of another guaranteed dose of bestselling pap by someone like Albom?
According to recent stories like this one, Starbucks feels like it’s in deep shit. Its stock has been weak, its customer loyalty is falling.
Chairman Howard Schultz chastened executives for “watering down” the “Starbucks experience” and “the commoditization of our brand” (the information comes from an email leaked earlier this month that you can read here if you scroll down to the memo link):
In his memo, Mr. Schultz cited several decisions that appeared to be the right move at the time for damaging the brand. He said using automatic espresso machines, sealed coffee bags and streamlining store design had removed the “romance and theatre” at store locations.
“Some people even call our stores sterile, cookie cutter, no longer reflecting the passion our partners feel about our coffee,” he wrote in the e-mail.
Starbucks “cookie-cutter”? Perish the thought!
But guess who is number one in brand loyalty these days (displacing Starbucks for the first time in five years): Dunkin’ motherfucking Donuts. Apparently they’ve cornered the market in “cookie-cutter,” forcing (or at least reminding) Starbucks to run in the opposite direction: bourgeois bohemian, politically engaged, yadda yadda.
Ergo, a memoir by a former child soldier—authentic! lefty! moral!—instead of Mitch “cash-cow-spiritualism” Albom.
If Dunkin’ Donuts really wanted to play hardball, they’d start hawking chapbooks by local poetry collectives.