Monday, October 23, 2006

The Starbucks Aesthetic

An article from the New York Times yesterday that chronicles the hip cultural-consumer attention of has solidified enough to be termed an aesthetic.

Here's the line that sent shivers up my spine:

"The book publishing industry could benefit from such a tastemaking force, said Laurence Kirshbaum, founder of the LJK Literary Management agency. 'One of the big problems in the book industry is that outside of Oprah, there’s no really widely accepted authority to recommend books,' Mr. Kirshbaum said."
(Emphasis mine. Note Kirshbaum wrote Is the Library Burning in 1969.)

No widely-accepted authority to recommend books? I know reader-advisories have been on the decline, but is anyone embarrassed by this quotation? Why isn't the library top of mind for him? Or do we want it to be? Hmmm...

Now, I can tell you that GenX and GenY may know Starbucks and identify the Starbucks aesthetic--but they're looking for something more authentic.

(Not that Starbucks is necessarily inauthentic but it is definitely a calculatedly authentic environment.) My point is, perhaps your library might be that more authentic place--even as you incorporate the smart thinking that has ushered in the age of the recognizable Starbucks aesthetic into your library.

Whew for all that Adorno reading ten years ago!


Jill said...

Alice - Thanks for pointing out this great article. One quote that caught my attention was this one: "When Starbucks executives describe the goal of the company’s cultural extensions, they invariably lean on the word discovery. "Customers say one of the reasons they come is because they can discover new things — a new coffee from Rwanda, a new food item. So extending that sense of discovery into entertainment is very natural for us. That’s all part of the Starbucks experience," said Anne Saunders , senior vice president of global brand strategy and communications. To me, this the essence of what a library is about - discovery. The difference (well, one of many differences) is that SBUX seems to benefit from the cache of being a "cool" place whereas I think libraries are still perceived as un-cool places for study. SBUX also does a good job of presenting well-planned and executed experiences for people, which includes tie-ins to its music, books, etc. I think librarians could learn a bit from them about creating meaningful experiences like these for users. However, as much as I like SBUX and believe there is much to learn from the company, these initiatives come off as increasingly presumptuous. They think that by slapping an SBUX seal of approval on a book or movie that it gives it a credibility that makes it irresistible. Perhaps in many cases it does as many of their promotions are successful, but I imagine it also alienates others like me who find it a bit over-the-top. In fact, I think it’s a little insulting actually. In contrast, I think your idea about libraries as authentic places is a good one and where we could find a competitive edge. I agree that librarians are or should be the experts on the local scene, rather than try to dictate what’s "in" or important as SBUX does. Certainly, we can do our part to raise the visibility of local hidden gems (entertainers, leaders, artists, organizations, resources, etc.), but we can also involve patrons and the larger community in a transparent way. This approach is less contrived and more inclusive than the SBUX approach, in my opinion, and also more appropriate given our mission.

Oh, and in terms of quotes that send shivers up the spine, this one really frightened me: " Thomas Hay, a 48-year-old contractor from Hartsdale, N.Y., said Starbucks helped him by editing down his cultural choices. Looking over the selections the company makes, he said, he has the impression that "some people of caring hearts and minds have looked at this and felt it was worthwhile and beneficial and would create a good vibe in the world." Call me a skeptic, but I doubt that caring hearts had much to do with this selection of materials – yikes!

Alice said...

Agree completely, Jill. And changing the library brand to become a cool place to hang out again--well you know as well as I do that libraries have an overarching brand that means "books," overwhelmingly.

But little by little, as communities around the nation and around the world start to shift how they look, walk, talk and act--public perceptions will eventually start to shift. Library staffs right now can think about how they reach out to their readers/listeners/online users/supporters, etc.

Jill said...

Absolutely - I'm very optimistic about libraries' future so long as we librarians continue to innovate and pay attention to our patrons' needs as they evolve.

Another interesting point you bring up: It's odd that despite the library=books brand you mention, many people still don't put us in their consideration set for things like book recommendations, as the article points out. This says to me that we need to do a better job of focusing on our services and benefits than our "stuff."

I'm very glad you brought this NYT piece and your insights to readers' attention. It's given me a lot to chew on. :)

Andy Havens said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alice said...

I'm leaving a comment to explain why Andy Haven's comment has been removed: he asked me to remove it. So just remember--if you want to leave a comment on IAG but then want to retract, your friendly blog administrators are happy to remove unwanted comments.

To summarize, Andy was thinking around about the term/identity of the "librarian" brand and implications for how to effectively reach users.