Thursday, August 26, 2010

Starbucks as public library

Starbucks' cinnamon dolce latte:
Espresso with steamed milk and cinnamon
dolce flavored syrup, topped with sweetened
whipped cream and cinnamon dolce topping.
Remember when public libraries worried they were losing patrons to the chain book- stores and chain coffeehouses and so began experimenting with adding coffee and pastry? Now, it seems, Starbucks is returning the favor: its Starbucks Digital Network, due in the fall, is library-like in some of the online services it promises.

Want to vault that Wall Street Journal paywall? You'll be able to do so while sipping a grande cinnamon dolce latte at your local Starbucks.

When the Seattle-based company announced it was making its wi-fi service free, many wondered why. Wireless Internet access already was available, but at a fee ($3.99 per two hours) to most customers. Starting July 1, though, the service became free and unlimited at company-owned stores.

Then the company began to fill out the "why": the Starbucks Digital Network, which would offer a collection of premium digital content -- iTunes, The New York Times, Patch, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo!, Zagat, Rodale, Nick Jr. Boost and

It's all part of what Starbucks long has called the "third place experience": a location beyond home and work where people choose to gather -- with Starbucks recommending music, books and movies to help them start a conversation. “We’re creating an online destination that will be true to, and expand upon, the Starbucks experience by delivering free, premium offerings that are selected specifically for our customers and localized for increased personal and community relevance,” Stephen Gillett, general manager of the company's digital unit, said in the Aug. 12 announcement.

And listen to this library-like description: "The Starbucks Digital Network will offer ... customers access to a one-of-a-kind destination featuring free access to various paid sites and services, exclusive content and previews, free downloads, career tools and local community news."

Alert the reference desk!

The content will be available to wi-fi-enabled laptops, tablets and smartphones through six "channels": news, entertainment, wellness, business and careers, My Neighborhood, and Starbucks. The news and "My Neighborhood" channels could be interesting for media companies, the former for the giants that will be part of the network (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today) and the latter for the online operations of smaller papers and local websites that might be able to elbow their way in alongside a hyperlocal like Patch.

Because as it has done with music, books and movies, Starbucks plans to "aggregate and compile the best content that [customers] can’t get any where else," Adam Brotman, another executive in the company's digital ventures unit, told Mashable.

And in music at least, that has meant a boost for newbie and legacy artist alike.

UPDATE: The service launched Oct. 19, according to cnet news. One thing I didn't realize was that Starbucks' network would be available only on wi-fi in its stores.

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