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News Corp. picks up more bricks for pay wall

Rupert Murdoch-owned conglomerate buys the maker of electronic news delivery software and acquires a stake in a venture devising an online payment system for journalism sites.

June 15, 2010|By Dawn C. Chmielewski, Los Angeles Times

Rupert Murdoch's quest to find a way to get people to pay for news online continued Monday as News Corp. made two investments in digital technology that could be key to the mission.

News Corp., parent of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post as well as newspapers in Britain and Australia, bought Skiff, a maker of software that delivers information to tablets, smart phones and e-readers.

The conglomerate also acquired a stake in media entrepreneur Steve Brill's Journalism Online venture, which has been developing a mechanism for newspapers and magazines to collect revenue from their online readers.

"Both Skiff and Journalism Online serve as key building blocks in our strategy to transform the publishing industry and ensure consumers will have continued access to the highest-quality journalism," News Corp. Chief Digital Officer Jon Miller said in a statement. The company did not disclose terms of the Skiff purchase.

Skiff, backed by publisher Hearst Corp., has developed the technology for displaying newspaper and magazines on e-readers in a way that resembles the original print publication.

Not included in the deal is an e-reader called the Skiff Reader, which is roughly the same size as Amazon.com's Kindle DX but lacks the color screen of Apple Inc.'s hot-selling iPad. People familiar with the matter said separate discussions were taking place regarding the sale of the hardware division that makes the Skiff Reader.

Journalism Online has also created a platform that allows publishers to choose from multiple options when it comes to charging for online access to their content — including the "metered model" in which casual readers continue to access information for free, but the most engaged readers pay for full access. About 1,500 newspapers, magazines and online-only publications have joined the Journalism Online pay initiative.

"We're delighted with it," said Journalism Online co-founder Gordon Crovitz of the News Corp. investment. Crovitz was a senior executive at the Wall Street Journal and parent Dow Jones for almost three decades, but left after News Corp.'s acquisition of that company. "This will allow us to build out our e-commerce platform more aggressively than we otherwise could. It will also allow us to staff up more quickly."

dawn.chmielewski@latimes.com

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