From Publishers Lunch on 29 August 2016.

For the next eight weeks, New York City subway riders can download free short stories and 175 book excerpts offered by Penguin Random House. It’s part of PRH’s “Subway Reads” promotion, in partnership with the MTA, “celebrating the installation of free wireless connectivity in more than 175 underground subway stations.” The NYT notes that, “Transit officials approached Penguin Random House . . . because it had run a similar e-book promotion in the London Underground last year, celebrating Penguin’s 80th anniversary. Transit officials said they were open to other platforms from publishers, and platforms for more than books — anything to draw passengers to the Wi-Fi service” that is being rolled out to all 278 underground subway stations by the end of 2016.

The five available short stories include Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novella High Heat, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s A Diamond as Big as the Ritz, and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Book excerpts available include Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem, Beloved by Toni Morrison, and Hamilton by Ron Chernow, as PRH selected “as many titles by New Yorkers – or about New York – as possible.” To optimize the commuter reading experience, Penguin Random House has also created a feature for excerpts called ‘read time’ that enables customers to sort the short stories and samples by the amount of time it would take the average reader to complete them.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said in the announcement: “New York’s transportation network must continue adapting to the changing needs of its ridership and a key part of that is delivering the amenities that have become essential components of everyday life. Bringing Wi-Fi into underground stations helps riders stay connected throughout their commute, allowing them to check in with friends or family and access news or entertainment. We’ve made tremendous progress in modernizing the system and Subway Reads is a fun way to introduce riders to the new Wi-Fi experience.”‎

PRH ceo Markus Dohle added: “For millions of New Yorkers, having a few minutes to get lost in a great book is one of the true pleasures of riding the subway. This fun promotion provides commuters with a new twist on that classic – and classically New York – pastime, with great short fiction, and the chance to access extensive samples of some of the very best, and most entertaining books in the world.”

Connected with it yesterday. It’s all pretty obvious. Just connect to the Transit Wireless WiFi and open your browser, and there it is. There are many options, including a poem by Billy Collins which the app tells you will take you 17 minutes to read. I guess these timings are quite important, because if your journey were to last less than the advertised time you’d end up having to finish reading in the station, as you lose contact once you leave the subway wifi range, though the story will remain there till you close your browser. For the same reason don’t try to change from one story to the other while you’re between stations — the wifi doesn’t extend into the tunnels. Nor is it available in all stations: surprisingly I was thrown off the system in the 34th Street A train station. They aim to have it up in all stations by the end of this year.

Quite appropriately each item has a “buy” button. I didn’t activate this, so I’m not sure where it takes you. No doubt to PRH’s own website. I hope it is all a success and that PRH extend the service, and that other publishers join in. Surely the risk of giving away a single free chapter, story, essay or poem isn’t huge. Sure; lots of people won’t buy but some will, and some is better than none.

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