NEXT TIME YOU'RE grabbing your latte, you may notice something missing from the Starbucks counter. After only three issues of the magazine Joe, the Seattle coffee giant's joint venture with Time Inc., the presses have stopped—at least temporarily.
Launched in June 1999 with the slogan "Life is Interesting. Discuss," Joe featured lifestyle articles by well-known young authors such as Douglas Coupland and Pagan Kennedy, and it joined a trend of custom-published magazines aimed at entertaining while delivering a subtle nudge to consumers; others are Marlboro's Unlimited, Ikea's Space, and even one from an Internet company, eBay's eBay Magazine.
The Internet seemed to factor into the creation of Joe and its accompanying Web site Joemag.com. In the press release accompanying the launch, Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz called the move "another step toward converging print, the Internet, and our retail stores into a seamless experience for our customers."
But this and other Internet plays backfired; jittery shareholders didn't approve of Schultz' Web plans and sent Starbucks stock plummeting 40 percent last summer. The company has since eased back into online ventures; in mid-February, it announced a five-year marketing agreement with Web delivery service Kozmo.com.
Joe's future is less certain. Though a press release in September referred to the magazine as a quarterly, spokesperson Megan Behrbaum insists that the plan has always been to publish three issues and then evaluate the response, both in terms of consumers and advertisers. She declined to give sales figures for the magazine.
"It's not pulled or discontinued," she says. She adds that a company memo distributed in January places the length of the evaluation period at several months.
A representative of Time concurs.
"The project of Joe was always a three-issue test," says executive editor Steven Henry Madoff, who works at two other Time publications in the company's New York office.
"Nobody has officially said that Joe is dead," he says. "We're hoping that it'll continue."
Madoff hints that Starbucks will make the decision whether or not to move on and says that other options for the publication are under consideration, though he refuses to elaborate on what those might be.
Meanwhile, Joe's Web site, which once linked to featured articles from the magazine, now redirects visitors to Starbucks' home page. The sleek black magazine racks that held the publication at Starbucks' 1,900 locations have been "reimplemented," according to Behrbaum. They're now being used to display Tazo teas. Phone calls and visits to several Starbucks stores in Seattle couldn't turn up any copies of the third issue, which appeared December 9, 1999.
According to one barista reached via phone, the lack of availability isn't due to excessive demand.
"They didn't sell very well," the employee says.