After lighting up the pundits with some impressive demos and strategic vision as CES 2010, Skiff has been reduced to becoming yet another element in Rupert Murdoch’s puzzling alchemy that masquerades as a digital media strategy. The purchase, along with an investment in news paywall provider Journalism Online, underscores the company’s posture that content should not be free.
Skiff, at launch, was a device and a platform for “content.” While somewhat nebulous in its position, given the company was part of the Hearst Corporation, the emphasis was on magazines and newspapers in that order. News Corp, with no magazine holding, will clearly be using Skiff for its global newspaper assets as a platform for distribution across myriad devices, none of which will likely be a Skiff.
While the news releases are somewhat ambiguous, it appears the Skiff device is not part of the Hearst-News Corp deal. The smart money says that Hearst is giving up on the device space especially since e-ink-based devices appear to be on a slippery slope with the advent of multimedia e-readers and tablets which offer color, video and web surfing in addition to a “good enough” reading experience. The somewhat sad irony is that Hearst was one of the prime forces behind the development of e-ink at the MIT Media Lab. Also feeling the pain on the possible shelving of the Skiff is Sprint, the hard luck telco, dumped by Amazon in favor of AT&T, looking for its niche in the new content ecosystem.
That takes us to News Corp and its deployment of Skiff. The biggest challenge for the global media giant is where best to house and deploy Skiff to leverage its capabilities. News Corp has struggled with leadership and direction in its digital strategy much of which has resulted in a series of soiled assets (Fox TV/films, newspapers, sports league relationships, MySpace) that are not able to play in the same sandbox not because of technology limitations but rather a common vision. Unless News Corp has a plan—and a good one at that—Skiff will go down as one of those e-publishing pioneers that seemed like a good idea at the time and nothing more.