Hearst to Launch Skiff Digital Reader Service

Marking the latest effort by print media to get ready for e-readers, Hearst Corp. plans in 2010 to launch a service and online store that will deliver newspapers and magazines on a variety of digital devices.

Hearst, publisher of newspapers and magazines including the San Francisco Chronicle and Cosmopolitan, said the service called Skiff, formerly known as FirstPaper, would provide a way for publishers to distribute their content via a growing number of digital reading devices while maintaining control of their relationship with advertisers and subscribers.

Publishers have worried that device-makers like Amazon’s Kindle, which has dominated the e-reader industry, will end up controlling the subscriber relationship and undercut publishers’ ability to sell ads on e-reader versions of their magazines.

“Skiff’s goal is to connect publishers and marketers with consumers,” Skiff’s president, Gilbert Fuchsberg, said in a statement. “We will accomplish this by delivering engaging reading experiences that consumers will value and a business model that respects publishers’ needs.”

“Skiff will offer publishers a way to participate across the full value chain, from shaping publication design to selling advertising to maintaining subscriber relationships, so that they can better control their destiny as e-reading expands,” said Kenneth Bronfin, president, Hearst Interactive Media.

Skiff said it is working with Sprint to provide connectivity to dedicated Skiff e-readers. These e-readers would be sold in Sprint’s stores and on its Web site, with more distribution channels to be added in 2010, according to Skiff.

The service also said it is working with publishers, advertisers, agencies, which weren’t named, as well as Nielsen and comScore to set standards for advertising on e-readers and analyze its effectiveness.

It was unclear if Skiff would be working with a Time Inc.-led consortium of major publishers to create a digital storefront for magazines’ e-reader versions.

The consortium, whose announcement is believed to be imminent, is said to include Hearst, Condé Nast and Meredith in addition to Time Inc.

A Hearst rep said the company has agreements with other publishing companies but would not name them. He said Hearst expected that the proposed consortium would work with Skiff.