Apple tucks in Starbucks

Best Buy is switching sides in the digital music biz, while Apple is teaming with Starbucks.

After a two-year strategic partnership with Napster, Best Buy is now working with RealNetworks’ Rhapsody, which launched an upgraded version of its subscription music service on Thursday.

The electronics retail giant previously promoted the Napster service and sold gift cards in-store and also offered a co-branded version of Napster on its Web site.

Instead of promoting Rhapsody, Best Buy is creating its own digital music service that’s essentially Rhapsody with the retailer’s own name on it. The Best Buy digital musicstore will be promoted in-store and on the retailer’s Web site.

Best Buy will still sell gift cards for Rhapsody competitors iTunes and eMusic but not Napster.

A Napster spokesman said that when their partnership expired several months ago, both sides agreed not to renew or extend the deal.

Both the Best Buy store and Rhapsody are designed to work seamlessly with a new digital music player from SanDisk that also went on sale Thursday. Previously, Rhapsody worked with any digital music player that used Microsoft’s Windows Media software, but users encountered repeated glitches and bugs. Microsoft is expected to stop supporting other players in the near future in favor of its own soon-to-launch Zune product.

Also Thursday, Apple added albums from Starbucks popular Hear Music catalog to its iTunes store. Starbucks will get its own branded section of iTunes featuring Hear Music albums, along with some additional content it will sell only online.

The coffee chain’s efforts to sell music downloads through its own “media bar” hasn’t spread beyond trials in a few stores. Instead, it will likely promote iTunes downloads via the wireless Internet connection available at most Starbucks locations.

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