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Until the MP3 and iTunes went and ruined everything, Starbucks at one time moved a lot of CDs and carved out an important (and decidedly middle-of-the-road) position in the music sector.

In the digital age, the coffee chain’s cachet in music has waned and its retreat appeared complete a year ago when CDs were finally pulled from store shelves. But Starbucks refuses to give up and is turning to Spotify to help re-establish itself as a prestigious music showcase.

The companies announced a partnership today that enables users of Starbucks’ mobile app, on both iOS and Android, to see the names of songs playing in its stores and then instantly add them to their Spotify playlists. No need to bug the barista anymore about what’s playing. For its part, Spotify will make Starbucks-curated playlists available on the music service.

Spotify in the Starbucks app. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)
Spotify in the Starbucks app. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

The new feature, launching today, will be available in more than 7,500 company-operated Starbucks stores in the United States.

But the most interesting thing about this deal is how determinedly Starbucks tries to remain relevant in music.

In 1999, Starbucks’ leadership believed that music was important enough to its business to acquire Hear Music, a company that operated a record label and retail stores under the same name. In 2008, Starbucks shuttered the label and turned some of the Hear Music locations into Starbucks cafes. It closed others.

In 2004, the coffee king tried in-store kiosk sales, which offered thousands of songs that customers could burn to discs. Not surprisingly, the service failed to catch fire.

Starbucks has previously offered free iTunes downloads and made other inroads into digital music, but that it finally appears ready to give up on physical music sales is good news. And providing a way for customers to learn a song name and instantly place a tune into a Spotify library is a nice convenience. Will the partnership lead to the kind of revenue that the coffee king once made on CD sales? Unlikely.

But Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz can console himself by recalling that most of the big CD retailers around during his company’s music heyday, such as Tower Records and Sam Goody, went bankrupt a long time ago.

At least he still has coffee.

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