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image A rival of the Kindle e-reader is to come from a Hearst-backed venture called FirstPaper, which PaidContent describes as a “stealth start up” with offices in Palo Alto and New York City.

If speculation pans out, the new e-book reader will use a flexible color screen nearly as big as a tabloid paper, and you’ll be able to change “pages” by touching the screen. True? Such were the possibilities brought up by the Crosscut news site in Seattle in a May 2007 story on Hearst’s plans to test-market a wireless newspaper “sometime in the next two years.”

Supposedly Hearst’s Seattle P-I was to be a testbed. Kenneth Bronfin, president of Hearst Interactive, denied anything was planned for Seattle. But what about the basic technology? And would the Seattle-related report tie in with the news of the First Paper startup? Not sure.

Media giant backing First Paper

What is clear is that giant Hearst corporation (headquarters shown) is backing FirstPaper. It’s an investor in E Ink, the original developer of the display technology that the Kindle, Sony Reader, iLiad and Cybook Gen3 and similar machines use.

Might E Ink or companies using the technology, such as Prime View International PVI, favor the First Paper device over the Kindle—by way of newest technology? I don’t know. If that happens, however, many in the Print on Demand community would consider this to be wonderful payback for someone with monopolistic ambitions such as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

The involvement of a content company like Hearst in a rival e-reading device might also reduce Bezos’s power over details such as pricing and distribution. The startup is calling itself “well funded,” according to PaidContent, and I wonder if  other media corporations might be involved. One way or another, I’d be be surprised if the FirstPaper device didn’t debut as a distribution vehicle for newspapers and magazines, not just books. The more content you can get from one platform, the more chances of success. But you can bet that e-books will show up via the FirstPaper project, for the SVP is none other than Lee Shirani, who headed Sony Reader’s e-book store.

No format info known—but reader will be Linux-based, with Mozilla-related tech

On the technical side, I don’t see any information about formats to be used. If Hearst is sensible, however, it will join other major companies in the IDPF and press for robust .epub standards not just for books but also newspapers and  magazines. Let’s hope that it rejects a proprietary approach similar to the one that Bezos is favoring for the Kindle. As shown by the decline of America Online, such a strategy would most likely be a loser in the long run. Nonproprietary standards would reduce the same fears that Hearst would use its size to strong-arm publishers.

Use of .epub would be consistent with Heart’s plans to rely on some open technologies. PaidContent says that FirstContent “is developing this device based on Linux and will have some variation of Mozilla browser or its underlying technology (XUL) in it. Some hints about the company’s plans are here and here in the job listings.” The second “here” now longer works. But ahead, I’ll reproduce, verbatim, the first link:


Job announcement

“A startup company which is well-funded by a huge media conglomerate located near Columbus Circle is looking for highly skilled, professional C# developers to help build software services around an innovative hardware product which will revolutionize the media publishing industry.

“This is truly an exciting opportunity to get into a well-funded startup and help define the next generation of media products. The right candidates should be motivated to build products with cutting edge technology, and with the ability to follow a methodology and conventions as part of a team environment. You should further be results-driven rather than process-driven, as you will have a chance to make a visible impact in this organization.

“Candidates should have the following skills:

- 3-5 years experience with C# and .NET development
- 5-10 years development experience overall in Windows
- Good working knowledge of at least .NET 2.0
- Knowledge of architecture concepts
- Demonstrated skill in building products which have been taken to market

“Experience in one or more of the following areas would be a strong plus:

- XML, CSS, schemas and XSLT
- Graphical model representations
- General server architecture
- Wireless applications
- .NET 3.5 (WCF, WF, Silverlight)

“We are using Visual Studio 2008 with .NET 3.5, WCF, WF and all the attendant improvements in the Framework, so the job also allows an opportunity to get up close and personal with the latest and greatest. Previous experience is not necessary if the candidate is determined to be a quick learner.

“Interested? Please respond via email with resume: nyhiring@firstpaper.com.”

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