ewspapers have been trying all sorts of gimmicks, from paywall promos to “open houses,” to get readers to discover their websites. The latest by the Wall Street Journal is clever: thousands of free Wi-Fi hotspots throughout New York City and San Francisco.
Through the month of September, readers will be able to use, courtesy of the Journal, 1300 hotspots blanketing large swathes Manhattan, including high traffic neighborhoods like Times Square and West Village. The service is also available in parts of three other boroughs. In San Francisco, the Wi-Fi will be available in places like Nob Hill and Fisherman’s Wharf.
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So why is the conservative Journal giving out free internet service to all comers? According to a spokesperson, “We’re always looking for ways to give people the opportunity to sample The Wall Street Journal. This is the latest in a long history of those efforts.”
This is one of the paper’s more novel initiatives but it may prove effective. While it’s unlikely that an iPad-touting tourist in Central Park is going to whip out a credit card and subscribe, the free Wi-Fi could be a terrific way for the Journal to let new users encounter its homepage (provided the service doesn’t have the janky qualities of some other free Wi-Fi initiatives).
The paper will also garner valuable customer data since non-subscribers must register to access the WiFi. Existing subscribers can simply log-in using their accounts; this too promises to deliver a trove of marketing data about the places that Journal readers frequent.
Here’s a screenshot from the Journal page promoting the service (sorry Uptown, no Wi-Fi for you!)