The long-rumored entry of publishing behemoth Hearst into the e-reader game is now official. And it’s not an e-reader, it’s an e-reader platform–offered by a new standalone company being launched by Hearst. Skiff says it’ll distribute magazines, newspapers, and books in attractively-formatted versions to a variety of e-readers, smartphones, and other devices. It won’t sell a device, but it’s partnering with chip company Marvell and wireless provider Sprint to help other companies make Skiff-enabled gadgets for sale starting next year.
The most interesting part of this news is not that there will be even more readers to choose from in 2010, but that Skiff is paying attention to the presentation of periodicals. Today’s readers, such as the Kindle, work okay for publications that are mostly hundreds of pages of plain text. But the magazines and newspapers I’ve seen in reader form have been really disappointing, since they’ve lost all the artful melding of type, imagery (preferably color imagery), and other elements that continue to make dead trees one of the best technologies ever invented for conveying information. Nor do you get the interactivity and community that the Web versions of the same publications provide (for free, yet).
The magazines I’ve subscribed to on the Kindle feel like a mashup of aspects of the Web and print–but it’s the worst aspects. The best ones are all left out. I wrote about this in a recent guest post for Folio, and while the Skiff site mostly offers tantalizing vision rather than specifics, I’m encouraged to see that the company’s tackling the problem, at least. Even though I think time is running out for companies to launch new devices and services dedicated to e-reading, unless they’re compatible with absolutely everything else that’s out there.