Hearst Subsidiary, LG, Sprint Team for Skiff E-Reader at CES

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 magazine content.

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 2009.

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.