Starbucks Digital Network: First Look

Starbucks, in partnership with Yahoo!, launched its content-rich digital network (aptly named the Starbucks Digital Network) in stores across America today.

The network, which is full of exclusive content, is only available in Starbucks Coffee shops. Apparently the idea is that if Starbucks can woo you with free Wi-Fi access and exclusive, free content (including full e-books, films, and newspapers), you'll spend more time at their café drinking coffee and eating scones.

I headed on over to a press event at a Starbucks in Sunnyvale to try out this new digital network with all its snazzy exclusive content and sexy smartphone-friendly interface. And, honestly...it looks pretty good.

The Starbucks Digital Network portal page.
The front page features a variety of location-based service and social network integration, including the local weather, the song that's currently playing in the particular Starbucks you're sitting in, and Foursquare, Facebook, and Twitter (because, what's the point of sitting in Starbucks and pretending to be a screenwriter if you can't check in so all your friends know what you're doing?).

In Video: Starbucks Launches Digital Content Network

It also has cycle-able "hero spots" that showcases whatever content Starbucks thinks you should know about--in today's case, free downloads from the band Fistful of Mercy, an exclusive clip from the Sundance film Waiting for Superman, and a sneak peek of Anita Shreve's about-to-be-published novel Rescue.

Your basic navigation buttons appear below the "hero spots": News, Entertainment, Wellness, Business & Careers, My Neighborhood, and Starbucks. Aside from Yahoo!, Starbucks has partnered with a number of big-name content providers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Rondale magazines, SnagFilms, USA Today, GOOD, Patch, Zagat, DonorsChoose.org, and Nick Jr. BOOST.

Looking at a book on the Starbucks Digital Network.
The website is optimized for mobile devices--including the iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android interfaces--and features a tablet-friendly (read: iPad-friendly) HTML5 design. The tablet-friendly design is noticeable on your computer, as the default sorting system is a scrollable grid. While the grid view is visually interesting, I found it a lot easier to sort through things on a laptop using the list view.

Most of the content isn't really something you'd trek all the way to your local Starbucks to check out (such as the exclusive video clips), but some of it is pretty darn good. The Wall Street Journal is offering a full digital copy of its newspaper, which is normally behind a rather expensive pay-wall.

Several books are available in full print--including Ken Follett's 985-page Fall of Giants and Philippa Gregory's The Red Queen. These books are only available for a very limited time (between 7 and 14 days), but Adam Brotman, Starbucks' Vice President of Digital Ventures, likens this feature to a library or a bookstore--you're not there to hunker down and read a novel, but maybe you want to browse or "flip through" a book. A key aspect of the Digital Network is browse-ability, Brotman says, because a lot of customers come to Starbucks to kill time or do some work and want to take a break.

According to Brotman, the new Starbucks Digital Network is a win-win-win situation for everyone--Starbucks, content providers, and customers. Content providers can showcase their content in a limited setting, Starbucks shares revenue on any upsells, and customers get free stuff. In the near future, Brotman mentions that there will be a higher degree of user customization, as well as exclusive (exclusiv-er, anyway) offers for loyalty members.

So, while I don't recommend rushing out and parking yourself in the nearest Starbucks (especially not today...I can guarantee you that a bunch of coffee-drinking tech-hipsters beat you to it), the Starbucks Digital Network will definitely make Starbucks a more appealing place.

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