LOS ANGELES -- Starbucks' latest brew is a custom blend of digital music.
The coffee retailing giant said Monday it will begin selling digital music downloads on CDs to customers at 10 of its stores in Seattle later this spring. It plans to roll out the service to 2,500 of its roughly 5,400 U.S. stores over the next couple of years.
The company is betting the service, which debuts Tuesday at its revamped Hear Music Coffeehouse in Santa Monica, will draw interest from music fans among its legion of coffee-bean loving devotees.
"It's a self-service experience ... that marries well with the time it takes to get your latte," said Don MacKinnon, Starbucks Corp.'s vice president of music and entertainment.
The Hear Music Coffeehouse, one of four combined coffee and music stores run by the chain, will have 70 stations for customers ordering music. The regular Starbucks stores will have a fraction of that, MacKinnon said.
Patrons will be able to walk up to a counter and use a flat, touch-screen computer display to browse through a collection of about 150,000 tracks. They will be charged $6.99 for the first five songs and $1 for every individual track after that. Included in the price: a labeled CD and jewel case.
By comparison, popular online digital music services like Napster 2.0, MusicNet or the iTunes Music Store offer between 300,000 and a half-million tracks, which sell for 99 cents each or $10 for a full album.
He declined to say how much the company has invested in the venture.
Music retailer Virgin Megastores recently announced plans to launch a similar service that would offer song downloads burned onto CDs or transferred directly to portable music players.
The Starbucks stores will be equipped with several HP Tablet PCs, headphones, printers, CD burners and a server, which will store the library of licensed music. The Seattle-based company hired computer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard Co. to design the service.
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