News Corp. Buys Hearst’s eReader ‘Platform’ Skiff

Last year Hearst’s Skiff project was one of at least 15 or 20 eReaders coming to market. When it was announced it was conceived of as an integrated package of hardware and software:

Skiff, formerly known as FirstPaper, specializes in the delivery and presentation of newspaper and magazine content, as opposed to other platforms that focus primarily on e-books and plain text. Newspaper and magazine content delivered by Skiff will feature visually appealing layouts, high-resolution graphics, rich typography and dynamic updates . . .

Skiff is working with major consumer electronics manufacturers to integrate Skiff’s service, digital store and specialized client software into a range of innovative devices, the first of which will be unveiled soon . . .

Skiff has signed a multi-year agreement with Sprint (NYSE:S) to provide 3G connectivity for Skiff’s dedicated e-reading devices in the United States. Plans are underway to have Skiff readers available for purchase in more than 1,000 Sprint retail locations across the U.S., as well as online at Additional distribution channels will be announced next year.

But that was before the iPad. Today News Corporation announced that it had bought Skiff from Hearst for an undisclosed amount:

News Corporation today announced that it has acquired Skiff, LLC, Hearst Corporation’s e-reading platform designed to deliver premium journalism to tablets, smartphones, e- readers and netbooks. The Company also announced an investment in Journalism Online LLC, the venture dedicated to enabling newspapers, magazines and online-only publishers of quality content to collect revenue from their online readers. The financial terms of both agreements were not disclosed.

Why did Hearst sell? Perhaps because it didn’t think it could compete in the devices market. EReader maker IRex recently filed for bankruptcy citing disappointing sales. 

Now it appears that Skiff will become, exclusively, a software platform for News Corp content distribution on a range of devices. There was no mention of hardware in the News Corp. release.

Just as with the smartphone market we may see three or four tablet platforms that are viable: iOS, Android, Kindle (maybe), WebOS/HP (maybe) and Windows 7 (maybe). Most aspiring eReader devices will diversify or fully evolve into software platforms or apps — e.g. Kindle for iOS, Nook for iPad and now Skiff.