Starbucks Wi-Fi and the Future of Paid Content

In Hannah's Perspective by Hannah Johnson

starbucks coffee

By Hannah Johnson

Starbucks announced yesterday that it would provide free wireless Internet access in its stores across the United States starting on July 1.

In addition, Starbucks will roll out “a new online customer experience called the Starbucks Digital Network” which gives customers free access to “exclusive content and previews, free downloads, local community news and activities” through its in-store wi-fi network. Initial content providers who have been named as part of the Starbucks Digital Network include iTunes, The New York Times, Patch, USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo! and ZAGAT.

What effect with this have on content providers’ efforts to monetize their content? Starbucks and iTunes have cooperated in the past to provide free song downloads to customers, which promotes new artists, potentially converts casual listeners into buyers and motivates customers to come back to Starbucks.

Mashable suggests that one of the benefits of giving Starbucks customers access to paid content is that they might subscribe at home. But perhaps the real future of paid content lies in corporate site licenses and partnerships, in which companies like Starbucks use premium content to help sell their products.

Consumers certainly see the value of paying for an object, like a cup of coffee. However, online content is still a hard sell. While few details were given about the terms of the partnership between Starbucks and its Digital Network, we can assume that Starbucks isn’t getting that content for free. Whether Starbucks is paying outright for access to the content, or there is some other kind of agreement in place, we can be sure that this represents a new type of opportunity for publishers.

It is possible that publishers of all kinds could end up selling broader usage licenses to companies like Starbucks. Company X might buy book, newspaper or magazine content as a giveaway to encourage its customers to buy another product or service, to entice customers into their stores, or to drive traffic to their website.

What we have seen in the last few years is that people are very eager to consume content, but less eager to buy it online. Is the future of online paid content one in which the content is actually a marketing tool to sell another product? A future in which content is paid for by companies, not bought by individuals?

About the Author

Hannah Johnson

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Hannah Johnson is the Publisher of Publishing Perspectives. Before joining PP in 2009, she worked as Project Manager at the German Book Office New York.