Skiff Looks to Create and Manage an Entire E-reading Environment

By: Jim Rosenberg

Part four of E&P‘s June cover story on tablets.


Hearst Corp. launched FirstPaper with what seemed general and broad objectives: build a platform to serve newspapers and their readers, and build an e-reader tailored for news apps. The initiative is now in a little clearer focus under what has become its Skiff subsidiary with its platform about to launch and a device hitting the market.

Here’s where Hearst is taking a little different approach: The device is not the platform, on which Skiff plans to accommodate many devices. And the platform is a broader enterprise, an e-reading “ecosystem” encompassing software, hardware and services, including advertising. It will present newspapers, but also magazines, books and blogs.

Addressing the growing number of devices, with different sizes, displays and capabilities, Skiff Chief Marketing Officer Kiliaen Van Rensselaer says his company “was created by publishers for publishers to remedy that situation.”

On the content side, Skiff is opening a digital storefront selling well-known domestic newspapers and magazines, with plans to add international titles, books and blogs. Skiff’s services and storefront will be available on various operating systems, such as Android, Linux, modified iPhone, Windows and dedicated e-paper devices.

“We’re trying to make life easy for publishers,” says Van Rensselaer, who bluntly advises publishers “not to do deals with third parties, where the economics cannot be sustained over time.”

XML is Skiff’s first choice for content feed, but it also can take PDFs or scrape a Website to prepare content for its own reader or pretty much any mobile phone or tablet, says Van Rensselaer. That’s because Skiff is “just one of a variety of devices that will have Skiff services running through it.” Already Skiff is optimizing e-reading content for Samsung smartphones, he notes.

The Skiff Reader combines tablet size with e-paper simplicity. “I think [e-paper] is still going to be an important and large segment,” says Van Rensselaer, even as young early adopters want color tablets and Samsung Galaxy S users read from color OLED screens. “There’s no question that color is critical for advertisers,” he says, noting e-paper developer E Ink is moving to color.

Most coding, software and service development for Skiff’s advertising platform, CRM database, storefront, and content preparation is done in-house at the company’s Palo Alto, Calif., facility, though it has some outside technical relationships. It did not identify its device manufacturer.

A major objective is to create scale “and then bring advertising in,” Van Rensselaer says.

Ads, Van Rensselaer continues, will use engaging layouts “very reminiscent of print,” while taking into account different devices’ requirements and possibilities and keeping track of the various ways an ad is prepared and presented. Ads may be interactive, but clicking on them will never take readers away from the newspaper.

And what kind of commercial arrangements is Skiff making with publishers? For now, Rensselaer says only that most circulation and advertising revenue will go back to publishers.



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