Hearst’s Skiff: E-Reader for News

Amazon KindleA few years ago, before the first e-reader reared its shiny plastic head, Steve O’Keefe, co-founder of SixEstate Communications, predicted their arrival. Blame it on either my lack of imagination or my lack of faith in the speed of technological advances, but I didn’t believe him.

Nearly every day in recent months, however, some online news source or another decrees either the destruction or salvation of the publishing industry by the influx of e-reader devices on the market. Headlines such as, “Can [insert e-reader name] Save the Newspaper/Magazine/Book Industry?” and “Does [insert e-reader name] Herald the End of the Newspaper/Magazine/Book Industry?” are sprinkled throughout the majority of relevant news sites and blogs. Whether you view them as the publishing industry’s bane or boon, more than 40 e-readers are already on the market, or coming soon, and Forrest Research Inc. predicts that e-reader sales will reach 6 million units this year.

The most recent entry into the e-reader market is the Skiff, which debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this past weekend. It’s being welcomed by such articles as CrunchGear’s “Can the Skiff save the magazine industry?” (That’s in pretty stark contrast to the lackluster reception given to Barnes and Noble’s recently released e-reader, the Nook.)

The Skiff is specifically designed for electronic display of traditional print publications such as newspapers and magazines, although it can also show books, blogs, and other content. As the aforementioned CrunchGear article says, “The software is focused on the representation of magazines in their native format, complete with all of the design frou-frou publishers love.” The official press release gives a little more detail:

Skiff will feature visually appealing layouts, high-resolution graphics, rich typography and dynamic updates. These capabilities will allow more newspaper and magazine publishers to successfully migrate their premium content to the fast-growing e-reading channel, while preserving the key design qualities that help publications differentiate themselves and attract subscribers and advertisers.

Having advertising capabilities constitutes another advantage for the Skiff. Its design will allow content publishers to display ads within the text of stories, which competitors such as the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader don’t currently support.

Another competitive edge is given by the fact that the device is produced in collaboration with The Hearst Corporation. The 122-year-old company has roots with legendary news giant William Randolph Hearst and is currently one of the largest media corporation in the United States. It owns newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle and magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan and O, The Oprah Magazine. If you were to pick a content partner for a device geared towards magazines and newspapers, Hearst would be a pretty good choice. One of the factors stunting the growth of e-readers for newspapers and magazines thus far has been limited content distribution.

There are drawbacks to the Skiff, of course. Some people complain that it looks like “a last-millennium newspaper” (see the comments on this San Francisco Chronicle article) with its layout and black-and-white screen. “Color will be ubiquitous in the next 12 to 18 months,” however, was promised by Chief Marketing Officer Kiliaen Van Rensselaer at the CES. There are also those who are reluctant to relinquish the tactile experience of reading a traditional print publication. Still, many will probably find the similarities between the Skiff’s display and “a last-millennium newspaper” comforting in the transition from print to screen. Its unique metal foil construction that more accurately simulates holding a newspaper will be beneficial as well.

Despite the hyperbolic feel to recent news headlines, the publishing industry as we know it is facing drastic changes. Publishers who want to stay afloat will have to forget the fight of print media vs. digital screen and find a way for the two to peacefully co-exist, as was manifested by the Reader’s Digest‘s decision to decrease print circulation in 2010 from 12 times a year to 10, and to increase its digital content. As The Business Insider article pointed out last January, The New York Times spends about twice as much money to print and deliver papers in one year as it would cost for it to just buy a Kindle for each of its subscribers.

In conjunction with the Skiff reader is development of the Skiff Store, which will sell news content for the e-readers. The platform¬†may be in line [with] Time, Inc.’s earlier plans to collaborate on a “Hulu for magazines,” by creating “an iTunes-like digital storefront where content can be bundled into subscriptions and delivered to customers on multiple devices.” Time and other news publishers want to avoid the mistakes the music industry made by giving Apple so much control in the distribution process, and to avoid giving Amazon any more power than it currently has.¬†Skiff also announced yesterday its Reader Development Kit (RDK), “designed to enable manufacturers to more easily create innovative reading devices with various display sizes, fast performance, and reduced overall component costs,” which will add to the production of even more e-reader choices.

No pricing or release date details for the Skiff e-reader have been made public yet, but it is supposed to hit Sprint stores sometime this year.

SOURCE: “Can the Skiff save the magazine industry?,” CrunchGear, 1/09/10
SOURCE: “Skiff E-Reading Service to Launch in 2010,” press release, 12/04/09
Photo courtesy of curiouslee, used under its Creative Commons license.

About Rachelle Matherne

  

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  1. Don’t credit me with being a prophet of e-readers. I’ve always hated them. I test-drove the first Sony E-Reader for Internet World Magazine and predicted its future as a doorstop.

    In 2001, PubWest brought me out west as a speaker against e-books. Loved it! I helped write the business plan for an e-reader company that perished in the dot com crash.

    I still think the Kindle is a flash in the pan, because the format is proprietary, no color screen, it has a hard time with graphic-intensive material, and it’s not a PC.

    I’m happy to test drive any e-reader or tablet anyone wants to send me — with disclosure, of course — but I haven’t said a nice word about one yet.

  2. Ha! You may hate them, but I’ll never forget that conversation we had about their imminent arrival.

    If the e-readers don’t survive, it will definitely be because they choose to remain so proprietary. If they’d quit trying to outdo each other and collaborate, we’d all benefit. Stop trying to profit from the devices and focus on the content, people!

    BTW, despite the initial lukewarm welcome for Barnes & Noble’s Nook, it’s now hitting numerous “best of 2009” lists.