By Emily Fredrix, AP Retail Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Starbucks (Stock Quote: SBUX) is adding a venti-sized dollop of free books, news and entertainment to its Internet offerings starting Wednesday.
The coffee chain's new digital network promises customers free e-books, movies and other exclusives, including free access to some paid Web sites such as The Wall Street Journal, and is meant to get customers spending more on drinks and content they buy through the site.
The move comes as Starbucks faces steep competition from McDonald's and other fast-food chains pushing increasingly fancy coffee drinks. But it also offers Starbucks a chance to make money by selling songs, e-books and other material to customers who linger over its free Wi-Fi, which saw 30 million log-ins last month.
Starbucks started offering free wireless Internet access in July. The new network, a partnership with Yahoo, is the next step in its strategy.
Customers will see the network as soon as they connect to Starbucks' Internet on their smart phones, computer or tablets. A welcome page allows customers to scroll through various sections including entertainment, wellness, business and careers, and "my neighborhood," where they can find community news, restaurant reviews and more.
Other partners include Apple's iTunes, The New York Times, Patch, USA Today and Zagat. The offerings include advance copies of books, through deals with publishers such as HarperCollins and Penguin Group books, and iTunes downloads.
Most of the free content — from movies to books and news — can be read or viewed only in Starbucks. The content was designed so it could be consumed in small doses, anywhere from five minutes to 20. That way, people either want to buy the content outright to take with them, or return to Starbucks again. The sites were designed to remember where people leave off in a book or a movie, so picking it back up is seamless.