People get into routines. For many people, those routines involve Starbucks.

Now, for probably tens of thousands of Americans -- and maybe a lot more -- those routines are going to have to change.

The company announced Friday it's going to stop selling something you've probably seen almost every time you've been to Starbucks: newspapers.

Perhaps you think this won't affect you. Maybe you get all of your news on the same device you're using to read this article.

But there are 8,400 Starbucks cafes in the United States. Almost all of them have a display rack offering at least three newspapers for sale: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and USA Today. 

If each Starbucks store sold an average of just a handful of newspapers per day, that could easily add up to 40,000 or 50,000 copies -- and with it, tens of thousands of loyal newspaper-reading customers. Now, they're going to be empty-handed.

Interestingly, Starbucks says declining newspaper readership isn't actually the reason for the change, which will start in September. Or at least, not the only reason.

Instead, it's about what big retail chains euphemistically call "shrinkage," a.k.a. "theft."

In short, it seems a lot of people may have assumed newspapers are complimentary at Starbucks.

So, they take them, spread them out on the table where they're enjoying their drink or food, and then (if they're even slightly conscientious), throw them in a recycling bin or leave them on a table for somebody else.

A quick look through some Starbucks employee threads on Reddit tells the tale:

"At my store, newspaper theft is so common that [we] put up a sign that says 'all newspapers must be scanned,'" one Starbucks veteran posted. "Doesn't stop people from reading them in the lobby like it's a library."

The chain also is going to stop displaying bags of coffee and "grab-and-go" snacks, for similar theft reasons. (I guess a lot of people were taking grab-and-go too literally, and not actually paying for them.)

When Starbucks first worked out its deal to sell The New York Times in all its stores back in 2000, it was seen as a giant coup for the Times. Some newsstand operators and convenience stores complained that selling newspapers at Starbucks would hurt their business terribly.

A lot has changed since then. With the announcement Friday, the newspaper world reacted emotionally.

Personally, I was most interested to see what how the newspapers that will no longer be sold in Starbucks reported on the change:

"It's the quintessential Starbucks experience: Walk in, order a piping hot cup of coffee and sit back with a newspaper," reported the Times. "Or, at least, that's how it used to be."

On USA Today, the headline was: "Starbucks to end newspaper sales in September, including USA Today."

Slightly more cagey, however, was the response from The Wall Street Journal:

"While Starbucks made the decision to no longer sell print copies, we are actively discussing other ways that their customers can access WSJ," a spokeswoman told the New York Post.

My wild guess (but not an unreasonable one): maybe the WSJ is trying to negotiate free access to the Journal while customers are physically at Starbucks, or some kind of discount that kicks in after you buy a coffee.

Anyway, this was going to come along eventually. I used to write for The Washington Post, Stars and Stripes, and -- my first job in the business -- the New Haven Register.

Yet I can't remember the last time I bought a print newspaper. I'm like everyone else, glued to my phone.

Sounds like Starbucks is just catching up to reality.

Published on: Jul 13, 2019
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.