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E-Readers Grow with New Formats

New digital formats that want to compete with the nascent e-reader device are raising questions about its long term viability.

The success of the Amazon's Kindle, along with the subsequent entrance of Barnes & Noble's Nook, and Sony's Digital Reader, at first seemed to have established the format for this particular space. Namely it would be a single-screen device upon which consumers downloaded books and magazine and newspapers from a single content provider - much like the Apple-iTunes model.

The concept is clearly a viable one: Amazon, for example, just announced November was the best sales month for the Kindle ever, some two years after it launched.

A Win for Advertisers

However, competing formats now entering the market may upend this particular model. That is not necessarily bad news for advertisers. Right now the current crop of e-readers offer no tangible path for marketers to reach out to readers, although the conventional wisdom is that eventually there will be ways to use these devices in marketing strategies.

Some of the competing platforms, though, are already there.

Skiff Enters Fray
Hearst Co. just announced the details around its long standing plan to enter the market. Skiff LLP, formerly known as FirstPaper, will be an e-reading service platform the company plans to launch in 2010 that will deliver "enhanced content experiences" to dedicated e-readers, as well as to multipurpose devices such as smartphones and netbooks. The Skiff service and digital store will offer up a large selection of newspapers, magazines, books and other content from multiple publishers. Skiff plans to best the Kindle by also featuring visually appealing layouts, high-resolution graphics, rich typography and dynamic updates. Such functionality will allow more newspaper and magazine publishers to migrate their content to these devices, Skiff maintains.

The company is working with major consumer electronics manufacturers to integrate Skiff's service, digital store and specialized client software into a range of devices - including a new partnership with semiconductor company Marvell to create the world's first "system on a chip" for e-reading.

Nielsen, comScore Partners

As for advertising, Skiff is currently collaborating with publishers, advertisers and agencies to establish standards, formats and metrics for e-reading, and to validate them through consumer research. To that end, it is partnering with Nielsen and comScore to provide publishers and marketers the necessary analytics to measure the effectiveness of e-reading advertising.

Building an eDGe

Another company called enTourage is developing what it dubs the world's first dualbook, combining the functions of an e-reader, netbook, notepad, and audio/video recorder and player in one. The device lets consumers read e-books, surf the web, take digital notes, send emails and instant messages, watch movies and listen to music. The two-screen device will be released in February for $490, according to Doug Atkinson, vice president of marketing and business development for the company (via New York Times). According to Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., the enTourage device is part of the next generation of e-readers, which would be hybrids. "They won’t just be a netbook or a tablet or an e-reader but a combination that will bend the categories consumers expect from electronics," she tells the Times.

They'll also be able to handle a category that the Kindle and Nook cannot: digital textbooks, she adds. E-textbooks have special requirements that can be addressed by hybrids like the eDGe, Epps says. "The devices have to render graphics faithfully, ideally with color and students should have the ability to take extensive notes and share them," as well as have access to whatever interactive elements publishers provide.

Publishers Push for Formats Too

Meanwhile publishers are prepping content to be made available on e-readers, putting additional pressure on the Kindle-Nook-Digital Reader generation of siloed devices. The latest example comes from Sports Illustrated, which is developing a tablet-friendly new offering that will marry components of the magazine’s print and digital versions, writes MediaBuyerPlanner.

Digital content provider Zinio and Target.com, in another example, have partnered to let consumers order digital subscriptions, single copies, and archived copies of magazines like Elle, Cosmopolitan, Maxim, Parenting Early Years, Popular Science, Woman’s Day, and a variety of others, at discounted prices, through what the companies are calling a co-branded, private-label newsstand site at target.zinio.com.

The digital copies can be read on e-readers or portable devices like iPhones or laptops.

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