HIGHTOWER: Starbucks and the Times Get Synergistic

Time for another trip into the Far, Far, Far-Out Frontiers of Free Enterprise.

Today, Spaceship Hightower journeys with you into the galaxy of "Synergy," an expanding space in the corporate world, where one corporation scratches another's back. Sometimes this is done within conglomerates where, say, Disney Inc's ABC subsidiary runs a congratulatory "newstory" about Disneyworld on "Good Morning America." Separate corporations, though, also are finding profit in the Wonderful World of Synergy. Consider, for example, the synergistic symbiosis that Starbucks has just found with the New York Times.

Starbucks is trying to corporatize, standardize, and monopolize the espresso experience, using its deep pockets and marketing clout to squeeze out local, independent competitors with names like Expresso Lube, The Daily Grind, and Jolt and Go. In its latest act of corporate arrogance, however, Starbucks has sought to standardize the reading material of its customers by limiting them to the Times. No more USA Today, no more local newspapers, and especially no more free alternative publications. All of these have been Starbucked--kicked out of the 2,000 or so local outlets of this espresso empire, leaving its latte sippers with a choice of the Times, at a dollar a copy, or . . . the Times.

Naturally, there's a corporate rationalization for this eviction of competitors: clutter. A PR flak for the company said, "It's really about simplifying our stores and providing a great experience for our customers." Yeah, uh-huh, sure. What it's really about is synergy--the New York Times, you see, is providing free national ads for Starbucks, something that no local papers can do.

This is Jim Hightower saying . . . It's one giant scratching the back of another, with the Times helping Starbucks get publicity that its competitors couldn't even buy, and Starbucks sweeping the way clear from coast to coast for the Times. Welcome to the sterile world of synergy.

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