Barnes&Noble Makes Wi-Fi Free via AT&T

Barnes & Noble bookstores nationwide offer Wi-Fi access, and the majority of them are already hotspots through AT&T. Those stores now offer free access via Wi-Fi, with a focus on expanding customer awareness of the Barnes & Noble's burgeoning e-book library.

Since its debut in 2005, AT&T access has been a subscription-based affair, but on Tuesday the two companies announced that AT&T Wi-Fi has gone complementary. Users with laptops, Wi-Fi equipped smartphones and other wireless devices can now surf the Web in stores without having to set up an account or pay.

Barnes & Noble recently fired a shot across the bow of Amazon.com and its Kindle e-book reader, announcing its "eBookstore" and plans to release a dedicated e-book reader of its own, in development by Plastic Logic. While the eBookstore is only passively mentioned in Barnes & Noble's press release, the move to make Wi-Fi available for free in all Barnes & Noble stores seems partly geared to build customer awareness of the new eBookstore, along with promotional content like bestseller lists, new releases, celebrity book signings and more.

The Barnes & Noble eBookstore launched with 700,000 titles. The number certainly seems impressive compared to Amazon.com's Kindle inventory, measured at 300,000 volumes -- but Barnes & Noble's number includes 500,000 e-books which are free public-domain offerings from Google.

Given the current absence of a dedicated e-book reader, Barnes & Noble is offering its e-book inventory to Mac and PC users, iPhone and iPod touch users, and BlackBerry smartphone users, who access the e-Books through a dedicated "eReader" software application.

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