Hearst subsidiary Skiff will roll out an e-reader at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas later this week with an 11.5-inch touch screen based on a flexible sheet of stainless-steel foil, a device whose size and flexibility the company hopes will make it an appealing way for users to read newspapers and other periodicals electronically. Sprint will provide 3G connectivity for the device, whose price point has not yet been announced. Despite being termed a niche product by some analysts, e-readers saw their popularity soar in 2009.
E-readers were one of the hottest items for consumers during the holiday
2009 shopping season, and they may become one of the big hits of this week's
Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas,
at least based on the companies rolling out their own versions at the event.
Given that e-readers have been hailed by some pundits and analysts as the
savior of traditional publishing, one company showing off an e-reader at CES
certainly has more skin in the game than most: Skiff, a subsidiary of
publishing company Hearst, will offer an e-reader optimized for newspaper and
Hearst's major interests include 15 daily and 38 weekly newspapers,
including the San Francisco Chronicle, while it has stakes of various sizes in
other newspapers, magazines and television stations.
The Skiff Reader is slim, at a quarter-inch thick, and includes an 11.5-inch
touch screen with a resolution of 1,200 by 1,600 pixels (UXGA). The display
itself, according to Skiff, is based on a flexible sheet of stainless-steel
foil. The larger size will theoretically be more conducive to displaying
newspapers, which along with other content will be downloaded from a
cloud-based Skiff store.
"This contrasts with the fragile glass that is the foundation of almost
every electronic screen-and a primary source of vulnerability and breakage risk
in the devices that incorporate them," the company said in a Jan. 4
statement. "Skiff has worked closely with LG Display ... the innovator of
the foil-display technology, to optimize and implement this first-of-its-kind
non-glass display uniquely for the Skiff Reader."
Skiff has also partnered with Sprint to provide 3G connectivity to the
device, which will be available in Sprint retail locations later in 2010. Skiff
has declined so far to announce a price point or additional distribution
channels. The Skiff Reader will also be able to download material via Wi-Fi,
and the company is apparently in negotiations with other manufacturers to port
the device's software and digital store onto other devices.
In that sense, at least, Skiff is following in the footsteps of both
Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, whose e-reader ecosystems center not only
around a dedicated e-reader device, but also software that allows e-books and
other materials to be downloaded and read on a variety of other electronics,
including PCs and smartphones.
E-readers have enjoyed a burst of popularity in conjunction with the holiday
shopping season, with Barnes & Noble reporting many shipments of its Nook
device delayed until January or February due to heavy demand. Amazon.com,
although declining to break out exact sales numbers, has asserted that its
Kindle line of e-readers is the bestselling product on its site; an analyst
with advisory group Collins Stewart estimated in a Dec. 1 research note that
the online retailer could earn as much as $301.4 million off the Kindle in
That level of publicity and presumed success have led smaller companies,
including Spring Design and Plastic Logic, to produce their own e-readers. In
the case of Plastic Logic, the overall business strategy has been to target its
own e-reader as a device for business travelers; as the field evolves, other
companies will presumably focus on similar micro-segments. The Skiff Reader
certainly seems to be aiming for a traditional-media niche.