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Starbucks' Web strategy emerges with Joe magazine

The ubiquitous coffee chain quietly launches Joe, a cultural quarterly magazine and Web site designed to advance the company's Internet strategy.

Starbucks' Internet strategy is brewing with today's quiet launch of a new literary magazine, aptly named Joe.

The quarterly magazine--both the $3 per copy print and free online versions--is the coffee giant's first move into the publishing world, and marks the first step in the company's anticipated new Internet strategy.

Starbucks is hoping the same Internet savvy, well-off, young coffee sippers that buy its lattes and frappuccinos will also now read Joe--preferably with a cup of joe.

More details of the Net strategy will be revealed soon. Joemag "is a piece of it, but the rest of it has not been announced," said Starbucks spokeswoman Karmen Johnson. "We're definitely looking at announcing our plans by the end of the month."

Starbucks' corporate Web site, launched last year, was redesigned today to promote Joe and to link to the new publication, which features a portion of the content from the print version that is on sale at 1,800 Starbucks stores in the United States.

To date, Starbucks has kept its Web portal plan tightly under wraps. Starbucks' site now lets customers buy coffee online and learn about its products. But in April, Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz promised to reveal details by the end of the quarter of a new online business that had nothing to do with coffee.

In a report issued last month, Merrill Lynch analysts said that Starbucks was gearing up to debut a new portal that would provide specialized content and commerce and help boost the company's land-based business sales as well as the Starbucks brand.

At the time, Merrill speculated that the portal would likely combine sales of existing Starbucks products and links to external businesses, such as Drugstore.com and eBay, to a content side centered on lifestyle and culture and include arts and music reviews.

Like Salon, Joemag.com is a literary magazine, boasting the work of a group of writers, photographers, poets, and illustrators. The site offers columns, fiction, discussion boards, music and film reviews, and essays. Joe is published under a joint agreement between Starbucks and Time Custom Publishing.

Downplaying the Time connection, Starbucks said the Joe editorial staff - composed mostly of freelancers--operates under guidelines that make it editorially independent. Johnson said there are no plans to advertise on the site.

The magazine's tagline is: "Life is interesting. Discuss."

The debut issue, which is focused on trust in relationships, features a piece by renowned author Douglas Coupland, who examines life in an office cubicle; the work of two writers, Abraham Verghese and Andrew Solomon, who discuss the idea of trust in the movie The Conversation; and photographs by Geof Kern, who explores trust in human interaction.