Hearst’s Skiff Plans To Set Sail Next Year With E-Reader Platform, Devices — And Sprint Deal

Forget First Paper. The incubated startup Hearst is looking to as a digital content savior is now Skiff, LLC, although the better name might be “Swiss Army E-Reader Ink” given all that it’s trying to do. Skiff, led by Gilbert Fuchsberg and headquartered in NYC with offices in Palo Alto, promises a 2010 launch with a “complete” digital content solution that can handle it all but will specialize in magazines and newspapers via a platform that can be used across devices and its own dedicated devices to be sold at retail. It also promises a business model that respects publishers’ needs.

It’s unclear where the Hearst startup fits in with the digital magazine consortium Time Inc’s John Squires is working on and that we expect to be officially announced any day. Hearst is part of that consortium along with Time Inc., Conde Nast and Meredith (NYSE: MDP). Ken Bronfin, the president of Hearst Interactive Media, told the WSJ, which first reported about Skiff’s plans late Thursday (the formal announcement is planned for Friday morning), that he hopes the consortium will work with Skiff. Hearst confirmed to the Journal that it already plans to offer some of its own publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle along with titles from unidentified other publishers.

The company provided us with details; Skiff.com is also live. On the dedicated device side, Skiff says it has a multi-year deal with Sprint (NYSE: S) to provide 3G service for the dedicated devices — and to sell them at its 1,000-plus retail outlets and on Sprint.com. It’s not an exclusive but Skiff says it won’t announce other deals until next year. Under its FirstPaper moniker, the company said last month it is working with chipmaker Marvell (NASDAQ: MRVL) Technology group on its integrated Armada 166E for e-readers designed to render high-res PDFs