NEW YORK – Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) plans to give away 50 million free digital songs to customers in all of its domestic coffee houses to promote a new wireless iTunes music service that's about to debut in select markets.
From Oct. 2 to Nov. 7, baristas in the company's more than 10,000 U.S. stores will hand out about 1.5 million "Song of the Day" cards each day.
The cards can be redeemed at Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) online iTunes Store.
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Thirty-seven artists with featured songs include Paul McCartney and Joni Mitchell — the first two to sign on with Starbucks' Hear Music label — along with Joss Stone, Dave Matthews, John Mayer, Annie Lennox and Band of Horses.
The first song will be Bob Dylan's "Joker Man."
Also on Oct. 2, Starbucks will start selling iTunes digital release cards that allow a full album of music and bonus material to be downloaded online.
KT Tunstall's "Drastic Fantastic" and the soundtrack to the film "Into the Wild" with new music from Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder will be the first two featured albums, retailing for $14.99 and $11.99, respectively.
Starbucks also will offer a limited-edition reloadable purchasing card that includes two free iTunes downloads when customers register their cards online.
Earlier this month, Starbucks and Apple announced a partnership that will allow users of Apple's iPhone and new iPod Touch to download songs playing in a Starbucks shop directly to their portable devices.
The coffee chain's icon will light up on the iPhone or Touch whenever a user is within range of a Starbucks shop's Wi-Fi signal.
People with the devices — or a laptop with iTunes software — will also be able to use the signal for free to browse and buy other iTunes music.
The service will launch at 600 Starbucks shops in Seattle and New York on Oct. 2, then roll out in San Francisco in early November.
Starbucks plans to have the service up and running in a quarter of its stores by the end of next year and in all U.S. stores with wireless networks by the end of 2009. There are no immediate plans to expand the service to international markets.
Starbucks has been selling CDs in its stores for years and added its music catalog to iTunes last fall.
Ken Lombard, president of Starbucks' entertainment division, declined to release any specifics on the company's digital music sales so far or compare how they've been stacking up to CD sales. He would only say that music in both formats has been selling well.
Expectations remain high for the upcoming wireless service. "We're going to see huge improvement in terms of the amount of tracks" that are downloaded, Lombard said.