Don't Be Surprised if Starbucks and Spotify Fall Out of Tune

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Spotify Chief Content Officer Ken Parks News Conference
Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images Daniel Ek, co-founder and CEO of Spotify, speaks at a news conference last week in New York.
Starbucks (SBUX) turned heads earlier this month, striking a deal with streaming-music darling Spotify. The partnership will allow Spotify's premium subscribers to earn reward points that can be redeemed at the leading premium coffee chain.

It's a pairing that makes sense in theory. Spotify has more than 60 million active subscribers worldwide, with more than 15 million of them on board as paying members. If Spotify is paying for the right to issue Stars -- the points issued in the My Starbucks Rewards program -- as a tool for attraction and retention, it could be a win-win move.

However, then we get to an interesting wrinkle in this partnership. Spotify users will be able to suggest songs from Spotify to include in the music playlist of their preferred Starbucks store. That seems pretty inspiring, until you begin to wonder if walking into a store will result in the awkward aural transition of going from Skrillex to Kanye West to Florida Georgia Line between sips of your Caramel Brulee Frappuccino.

Sure, that will never happen. Starbucks is trying to cultivate a specific premium user experience, and sonically speaking, that involves a steady flow of smooth indie tunes. However, if your favorite store ignores your Spotify suggestions -- and that's what will probably happen, as the Top 50 playlist on Spotify is far removed from the hipster sets that currently play at Starbucks -- it will lead to disillusioned customers who were duped into thinking that they actually had control of the jukebox.

Once again, Starbucks will get it wrong when it comes to music.

The Long Divide Between Java and Jams

Starbucks has always wanted to be a tastemaker in the world of music. Walking into a store opens up access to its Pick of the Week, which is available as a free iTunes download. Starbucks used to hand out promo codes for the iTunes downloads until it improved its in-store Wi-Fi.

Starbucks has even put out its own musical releases. Did you know that it was Starbucks that released Paul McCartney's "Memory Almost Full" CD in 2007? It was the initial release on the Hear Music label that the coffee giant launched that year -- and if the "Hear Music" moniker sounds familiar, it's because it was also the name of the coffee-centric music store that Starbucks tried to roll out a few years earlier.

Hear Music was a chain of five CD stores that Starbucks acquired in 1999. It went on to open three more flagship stores, incorporating the signature premium brews of Starbucks into a dynamic music environment with listening stations and music sales. It never truly took off. CD sales were peaking. However, this has never stopped Starbucks from trying to score the soundtrack of its customers.

Sometimes it works. Starbucks earned props for unearthing early recordings of Ray Charles and Bob Dylan, and countless music icons got an early boost from iTunes promo codes at its stores. However, there are also lines that shouldn't be crossed. Giving Spotify listeners the ability to earn reward points that can be exchanged for steaming beverages at Starbucks makes sense, but pretending that it's going to let customers play DJ for individual stores is never going to fly.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Starbucks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days, and check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.
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