News Corp. Buys Skiff, Invests in Journalism Online
In a surprising move, News Corp. has acquired Skiff -- a company originally founded by Hearst Corp. to create a tablet-style e-reader device and reading software compatible with various other tablets, smartphones, ereaders and netbooks. News Corp. also revealed that it has taken a stake in Journalism Online, a project that aims to help news publishers monetize their online products with a system of micropayments by readers.
In early reviews, the Skiff device -- previewed in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas -- won praise for its large, thin "e-Paper" touchscreen (a quarter-inch-thin, 11.5-inches on the diagonal) and high resolution. Perhaps just as important, the Skiff software under development is designed to enable publishers to create and distribute content compatible with many other portable reading devices.
Jon Miller, News Corp.'s chief digital officer, explained that the acquisition and investment "underscore News Corporation's ongoing commitment to create strong business models that support journalism at a time of great change in our industry." As part of the new push, News Corp. has also appointed Jon Housman president of digital journalism initiatives, where he will be responsible for directing new business efforts in "premium digital journalism."
The news of the Skiff acquisition comes as something of a surprise, as it was widely viewed as the proprietary interest of Hearst Corp., which created Skiff LLC as a stand-alone company last year, giving no indication that it intended to eventually transfer control to another publisher.
News Corp.'s investment in Journalism Online is less surprising, considering Rupert Murdoch's publicly stated plans to begin charging readers for access to online publications. Journalism Online's Press+ e-commerce platform allows publishers to pursue multiple options for paid access, including a "metered model" under which most readers continue to get free access, while the most engaged readers will pay for access to some articles.