Starbucks' (Nasdaq: SBUX) new digital media network might seem like a leap into alien territory -- but this idea may be just crazy enough to work. Hey, who doesn't love free stuff?

The coffee giant has teamed with Web veteran Yahoo! to offer select digital media content wirelessly in its cafes. It'll allow customers who arrive with their computers and smartphones to enjoy free e-books, movies, and even reading material from usually for-pay websites like News Corp.'s Wall Street Journal.

In return, Starbucks hopes that customers will linger longer, possibly buy more drinks and snacks, and maybe even shell out for some of the non-free content available for purchase over the network. Most of the free content will only be available while the customers are in Starbucks, so they'll have to "linger longer" to maintain uninterrupted access.

On the face of it, this may sound like a weird strategy, but Starbucks has succeeded with stranger initiatives in the past. Oatmeal and instant coffee each sounded dubious when Starbucks rolled them out, but both ended up winning over customers.

On the other hand, not all of Starbucks' ideas have panned out. The chain's had mixed results selling physical copies of movies and books, and its 2006 efforts to promote the critically praised film Akeelah and the Bee didn't keep the movie from becoming a financial failure.

That said, giving customers something to do while they're hanging out at Starbucks could be a ticket to more traffic and sales. Just yesterday, I overheard one Starbucks customer ask another whether he could share his newspaper while waiting for the line to die down, so it's not like people don't occasionally hanker for something to do in the cafe.

Consumers' growing tendency to carry smartphones ups the chance of a success rate for this initiative, since not all customers will pop in with their laptops. Such a network could also increase Starbucks' engagement with patrons as it fights the likes of McDonald's (NYSE: MCD) and Panera (Nasdaq: PNRA) for coveted consumer traffic.

In addition, this program could pose even more difficulties for old-school companies that hope to capitalize off e-books and other digital downloads, such as Borders (NYSE: BGP) and Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS). Now there's one fewer reason for people to come to their stores (or use their e-readers for e-books).

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Alyce Lomax owns shares of Starbucks. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool has a disclosure policy