booksWow, a marketing campaign that actually benefits the rest of us? Yes, it's true, courtesy of bookstore monolith Barnes & Noble. B&N just announced that it's offering free Wi-Fi in all its stores. The chain has offered pay-per-use hotspots in collaboration with AT&T since 2005; now, customers can access the Internet without a charge with an appropriately equipped laptop, smart phone or other wireless device.

Of course, the chain's not letting you go online on its dime just to be nice; rather, it's promoting the instant-gratification factor of its e-book library, which you access by downloading. In other words, when you go to the store to buy that hot bestseller and it's sold out, Barnes & Noble wants you to download it from them on the spot rather than go to another brick-and-mortar store to purchase it.

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Barnes and Noble stores are offering complimentary Wi-Fi on July 28, 2009. Take advantage!
Barnes & Noble
AP
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As promotions go, we have to give this one a thumbs-up. First of all, there's the fact that you don't need to purchase an e-book to get online, which is a huge plus. Although B&N is obviously trying to use the free access to sell its products, it doesn't force it on you, although it makes it as easy to browse the cyberspace aisles as the real ones by letting you access some 700,000 e-books. As this Macworld article points out, that's a heck of a lot more pixels than Amazon's 300,000-volume e-book library, although it does include 500,000 public-domain books scanned in by Google.


In the future, B&N plans to come out with a dedicated e-book reader to compete with Amazon.com's Kindle. In the meantime, it offers an application that can run on various laptops and smart phones. In addition, the official release from B&N mentions an opt-in service customers can sign up for that will send them things like coupons to the in-store cafes and alerts about events like author book signings when they enter the stores. Since the service is opt-in, it's not a requirement to give B&N your email address or any other info if you want to hop online -- another good aspect of the campaign.

In a way, this is just an extension of B&N's decision, once considered counterintuitive, to offer easychairs in its bookstores. Why do that, some people wondered. Customers could just come in and read a book without buying it. To be sure, there are probably many who did just that, but the company was willing to bet that the number of people who would pick up a paperback, settle into a cozy armchair to read the first chapter, get hooked and buy the book to finish at home would outweigh those willing to trek to the store to read a story in installments.

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