Hearst, which is one of the world's biggest publishers of newspapers, has been hit as hard by the recession as anyone else in their field. But instead of eliminating long-standing titles (like Conde Nast) or selling out to unlikely purchasers (like Playboy, which is about to be sold to a clothing manufacturer), they dealt with it by jumping into the future with both feet – maybe a bit too far, but it's a move in the right direction.
The publishing company announced that they are entering the E-publishing arena with Skiff, a platform that will offer a variety of E-publishing content, with a concentration on newspapers and magazines. Skiff is going to be a full suite – it will feature an iTunes-like store where users can purchase content from name brands like the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as Hearst's own magazines.
Publications that appear on the Skiff system will be advertising-supported as well, just like traditional magazines, and newspapers and magazines will be able to keep the majority of their ad revenue – a huge boost for a cash-strapped segment of the media.
Now, here's where the "possibly a step too far" comes in: Hearst is also launching its own E-reader that will be dedicated to Skiff. They've struck a deal with Sprint to market the devices – which is shaky on its own, considering Sprint's recent performance. (The beleagured cell phone company is probably looking to the Skiff to be its savior now like it had formerly looked to the Palm Pre). Considering how overcrowded and complex the E-reader field is going, the Skiff device really isn't necessary – especially since the system will be available for the Nook and the Kindle.
What does this mean to people looking to get into publishing? Very, very good things – if the Skiff system catches on, it's going to be a game-changer. Magazines and newspapers have been trying to make the "paper to pixels" transition for a long time, and this is going to make it a lot easier – an integrated system people can use as "one-stop shopping" for print content in a convenient, portable form.
Expect other publishers to either get in bed with Hearst on this or start their own imitators – either way, we're going to end up with a lot of other publishers going electronic, saving an awful lot of writing and editing jobs and opening up new ones on the technical side of things – electronic layout, encoding, etc.
I'm not going to go as far yet as to call the Skiff the savior of the publishing industry – we don't know yet how it will perform when it's released, after all - but if it works, it's definitely a major, much-needed shot in the arm. If you were putting your dreams of getting into this field on ice because of the current climate, you just may find yourself dusting them off again.