It's 2019, and this is Starbucks we'll be talking about, so perhaps this shouldn't be a surprise.

But when I reported in July that Starbucks decided that it would no longer sell print newspapers in its stores, some customers were really unhappy.

The reason for the decision? Ostensibly, "shrinkage," to use a term that people in retail apparently use. 

Or: "flat out theft," as most of the rest of us call it.

"At my store, newspaper theft is so common that [we] put up a sign that says 'all newspapers must be scanned,'" a Starbucks employee posted on Reddit after the change was announced. "Doesn't stop people from reading them in the lobby like it's a library."

But, even if employees thought it made sense, some Starbucks customers bemoaned the new policy.

I can't do better than cite my Inc.com colleague Chris  Matyszczyk -- a talented and prolific columnist, you will note, for the very digital publication you are currently reading -- protested that not being able to get a print newspaper at Starbucks left him feeling that an "essential and formative part of my morning experience" had disappeared.

I feel for Chris, and others who feel like he does, despite the fact that I've purchased a print newspaper in years -- and that in turn despite the fact that I used to write for print newspapers like The Washington Post, Stars and Stripes, and my first job in journalism, the New Haven Register.

I do subscribe, however, to the digital version of the New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal

Hold that thought, dear reader.

For when this came up in July, I couldn't help but fix my gaze upon the comment of a spokeswoman for the Wall Street Journal, whose print newspaper had just been unceremoniously evicted from the newspaper racks at Starbucks.

"While Starbucks made the decision to no longer sell print copies, we are actively discussing other ways that their customers can access WSJ," the spokeswoman said at the time. 

Perhaps, I opined, "the WSJ is trying to negotiate free access to the Journal [online] while customers are physically at Starbucks, or some kind of discount that kicks in after you buy a coffee."

Lo and behold, that's exactly what was happening. 

Starbucks announced this week that it will now offer free digital access to the online versions of news websites via its in-store WiFi access, including:

  • The Wall Street Journal 
  • USA Today
  • The Seattle Times
  • Chicago Tribune
  • The Baltimore Sun
  • Orlando Sentinel
  • New York Daily News

"This is just the beginning," Starbucks said in a press release. "We will continue to listen and learn from our customers, looking for new opportunities to deliver news, content and experiences that are relevant to our customers, inspiring to our partners and meaningful to our communities."

Now, it's not forever. Starbucks says it's trying this out for "a limited time."

And it's not clear what the arrangement is between Starbucks and the various news organizations. One might guess that it's a good promotional opportunity for the news organizations -- particularly the lesser-known ones that were rarely in Starbucks to begin with.

Interestingly, in my experience, Google sp​onsors or provides the free WiFi in just about every Starbucks I've been in. And it's Google that has taken some of the blame harming the newspaper industry by dominating advertising.

Strange bedfellows, I suppose. But again, this is where we are as we approach the third decade of the 21st century.

It's time to log in if you want to read, Mr. Matyszczyk. To ease the transition though, the coffee is on me.

Published on: Oct 5, 2019
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The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.