Nearly two years ago, I bought a CD while waiting for a bucket-sized iced coffee, sweet with a splash of whole milk. It wasn't a long wait, but it was long enough for me to spot the new Vampire Weekend album, remember I'd pirated their first two and hand my Starbucks gift card back to the barista. "I'll also take Modern Vampires of the City, too."
I haven't bought a CD since. And with news that Starbucks is going to stop selling these music-filled coasters, I don't think I'll ever buy another.
Like the free wifi, the music was always an added value that came with the dependable, mediocre, and dependably mediocre coffee at Starbucks. I remember when Starbucks started "discovering" artists for its customers. Starbucks first sold an album in 1994—a Kenny G album, natch—but the Seattle-based conglomerate made a big splash when it bought Hear Music, a chain of records stores that made its own compilation albums, five years later. By the time the iPod era hit its peak in the mid-Aughts and the music industry basically unraveling, getting an album featured in Starbucks really moved the needle for record companies. The New York Times compared the endorsement to being included in Oprah's book club.
Back then, it really was about discovery. "There's a disenfranchised consumer right now," an RCA executive told the paper in 2008. "I think that's where businesses like Starbucks play a really vital role. They're good for getting to people who don't really know where to find CDs anymore, especially the right ones."
Hey, that's me! Except I totally know where to find CDs and I just don't want to seek them out. I used to cruise record stores, but now I get my fix by surfing my Soundcloud feed. If I know what I'm looking for, I go to Spotify or even YouTube. I pay for the privilege of being able to stream music at all times, so I wouldn't even think about buying a CD unless a desirable one appeared before my very eyes with a discounted price and other impulse buys like cake pops. That's exactly the kind of convenience Starbucks offered.
I'd be lying if I wasn't nostalgic about CDs, though. I see them so rarely that it's always a bit of a throwback treat to pick up an album, gaze at the cover art, squint at the track listing on the back. I liked tearing off the cellophane and smelling the weird CD smell when I opened up the jewel case. Who didn't?
When Starbucks sold Alanis Morrisette's Jagged Little Pill on its 10th anniversary in 2005, I bought a copy of the coffee shop's exclusive acoustic release. The original was one of my first CDs, and it felt great to pay tribute—literally.
But when I picked up my last CD, I was in Tennessee visiting family and dealing with some health problems. I'd had a rough couple of weeks, and when I saw it sitting there, I thought of being a teenager and going to Borders with friends on Saturday nights. (Wild, I know.) We'd get small coffees from the bookstore café (with ten packs of sugar) and pay with change from the trays in our cars. We'd listen to entire albums on the free demo stations. Sometimes, we'd buy an album with even more spare change. On the drive home, the dude sitting shotgun got dibs on the liner notes.
And maybe if I saw another nostalgia-magnet album when I was getting a coffee with credit card in hand, I'd pick it up too. But from now on it's just the cake pops.
Image via Adam Clark Estes / Starbucks / Shutterstock