In a not-so-dramatic turnaround, Starbucks Corp revealed to employees via an e-mail that the company now realises, "that free publications are an important part of our coffeehouse culture and that they provide a connection to the communities in which we live and work." The mute announcement, offered by president and CEO Olin Smith last Friday (22 September), follows weeks of bad publicity that came from a policy which banned the distribution of free newspapers in Starbucks coffee shops.The company originally said that the ban would become effective on 2 October as a means of preventing clutter, but was interpreted by many as being against both free speech and the company's self-professed promotion of literacy. Numerous free newspapers have stressed that distribution within Starbucks' walls was not essential for their survival, but many were aggravated by what they saw as a corporate response to the sometimes negatives articles that have been published about the coffee chain. Tim Keck, publisher of Seattle's "The Stranger" commented, "For us it's no big deal, (but) it just shows how out of touch (Starbucks is) with their customers."Alan Gulick, spokesman for Starbucks, revealed that the company changed its mind after employees gave negative feedback to the idea.Having rescinded the policy, Starbucks will now sell the flagship paper of the New York Times Co in its stores, and establish guidelines for the dissemination of free papers. This latter point worries Alisa Cromer, publisher of "Seattle Weekly," who believes that the company has "left itself some wiggle room." Whatever the outcome, the age-old association of coffee shop and alternative culture has been weakened.