A new wave in Seattle's newspaper war?

With Skiff, Hearst plans to enter the e-reader market and give the online P-I another way to compete with the Seattle Times.
With Skiff, Hearst plans to enter the e-reader market and give the online P-I another way to compete with the Seattle Times.

Less than a year after folding the print version of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and all but abandoning the competition for the local newspaper market, Hearst now is now planning to re-enter the fray. In an email to Crosscut today, Hearst spokesman Paul Luthringer said the New York-based media conglomerate will include its Seattle-pi.com website on its newly named Skiff media service.

In response to Crosscut's query about the online P-I's future Luthringer said: "It is expected that Hearst's newspapers and magazines will be available on the Skiff platform as well as other platforms," including smart phones and web books. Hearst currently owns 15 daily newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle, and the Albany Times Union. It folded the print P-I last March 17, saying the paper was losing money. Since then, Hearst has operated the online P-I website as a sort of digital holding action while it completed development of Skiff, which was formerly named FirstPaper.

Hearst's announcement of Skiff on Friday did not draw much initial coverage locally. The Seattle Times carried the news in a roundup of business news and the online P-I offered only slightly more news, drawn mainly from Hearst public relations release.

In that release Hearst said it had partnered with Sprint for 3G connectivity and would initially be selling the reader and its accompanying news service through Sprint's retail outlets. No date was set for launching either the reader or the news package, but Hearst did say that unlike Amazon's Kindle its device will allow subscribing publications to tailor their own advertising, presumably letting them collect at least two new revenue streams from subscribers and readers.

That would once again put the e-reader-based P-I into head-to-head competition with the Seattle Times, which currently sells ads for both its print and Web-based news sites but has not announced any plans to offer news on an e-reader. So far, Times executives have said only that they are hoping to see the paper's declining circulation rebound as Seattle's economy bounces back.


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