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During the tough economic times when companies are downsizing and cutting costs, Barnes & Noble decided to buck the trend and go big. The chain that made hanging out at bookstores cool, is offering free wireless connectivity at all of its 777 U.S. stores and launching an eBookstore to enable its customers to buy and read ebooks on handheld platforms such as the iPhone, iPod touch, Blackberry smartphones, and laptops.
The wireless service is powered by AT&T--which also works with Starbucks to offer that franchise's patrons internet access. Starbucks internet is free with a few strings attached--including the requirement of a Starbucks card and a time cap on free connectivity. Though Barnes & Noble has worked exclusively with AT&T to provide Wi-Fi connectivity in the past, it did so by billing the customer at a hourly rate of nearly $4.
Free Wi-Fi and ebooks...is there a connection?
The bookstore's laptop and smartphone dwellers can now download and preview over 700,000 ebook titles while sipping their latte and curling up on a couch in the store. With the popularity of Amazon's Kindle, free Wi-Fi may be just the draw to attract new eyes to Barnes & Noble's ebook services. The company anticipates offering over a million titles within the next year and also launching an eReader device in 2010.
And to entice customers towards purchase, of physical or digital titles, Barnes & Noble is making available special coupons, in-store event information, and other promotions to their in-store internet-surfers.
Barnes & Noble CEO, Steve Riggio, is cognizant of the chain's role in making the bookstore a destination rather than stop and feels confident that internet for all is a step in the right direction, "by providing no-fee Wi-Fi access [Barnes & Noble] is not only meeting  customers' needs, but extending the sense of community" that has made the franchise successful. And in case you question the bookstore's ability to compete in the ebook market, Riggio assures that "[Barnes & Noble's]commitment to the sale of digital books is significant."
It is welcome news to book-lovers and internet-junkies alike. Will other bookstores follow suit? You'll just have to keep reading to find out.