Europe's biggest publisher embraces the WePad

[Germany] Billed as an iPad competitor, the WePad is not vaporware, but is in fact, The Chosen One. At least, that’s the view of some, who are hailing the WePad as the saviour of the German print publishing industry.

While Apple is still racing to the wire to secure enough media content partnerships for the iPad before its launch this week, the WePad has already bagged Europe’s biggest publisher, Gruner + Jahr.

Bernd Buchholz, CEO of Gruner + Jahr, presented the first German-born slate PC at last week’s annual press conference for his company. Unfortunately, there is only a very dark photo of this event on Facebook (see above), but you can find new professional shots on sites like Areamobile (below).

Axel Springer, publisher of Europe’s biggest newspaper BILD is also in talks to use the WePad, says the latest rumour quoted by German newswire DPA.

German magazine Stern on WePad.

But Buchholz must have jumped the gun, because the WePad’s creator Neofonie had scheduled all official announcements about the WePad’s hardware and media partnerships for April 12.

That didn’t hold Buchholz back from presenting a WePad version of Stern, one of Germany’s biggest magazines which sells 900,000 copies. Other similar versions of Gruner + Jahr magazines like Geo or Gala are in the making. They will be marketed at similar prices like their print versions and the launch date is just some months away. Apart from the text and pictures of their print issues, the WePad versions will be full of audio, video and Flash and also interwoven with the magazines’ websites.

It seems that Gruner + Jahr is not the only publisher who believes in the WePad’s success. Neofonie CEO Helmut Hoffer von Ankershoffen is “happy about the first big advance orders from companies”, he wrote on the WePad Facebook site (5,709 fans). Gruner + Jahr has officially announced a plan to license the WePad’s epaper software, that Neofonie developed on their behalf, to other publishers. The WeMagazine publishing software is platform independent and apparently works with several devices or user interfaces, including the iPad and normal computers.

The underlying strategy is clear: “We insist on our sovereignity of products and contents”, Buchholz said in his Thursday’s speech, clearly hinting at recent problems. Apple removed the Stern iPhone app in November without warning from the App Store due to objections over photo galleries featuring too much nakedness. The Association of German Magazine Publishers (VDZ) warned that such intrusions might represent a move towards censorship.

German publishers are also disgruntled with Apple’s pricing policy. Buchholz said they need to “get in charge of pricing”. Apple’s regulations have the absurd side effect that an iPhone version of Germany’s most important news magazine, Der Spiegel, will cost more than the print version. Its price will soon jump to €3.99, after the €2.99 introductory offer is over, while the paper sells for €3.80.

Therefore Gruner + Jahr appears to be at the helm of establishing a totally competing platform to the iPad. “We are in talks with nearly all big and small German publishers, also with [our big competitors] Springer and Burda”, Buchholz said in a press conference after his speech.

Oddly, Gruner + Jahr has jumped the gun before the official April 12 event, and the WePad’s hardware spec is now getting out there. Gadget geeks have posted interesting links, such a possible WePad prototype running Windows. It also appears that the WePad will be made by OEM Pegatron, a company connected to the iPhone, ironically.

So far Neofonie isn’t very helpful on what ebooks formats will be supported. Its latest product sheet says again that the iPad uses a “proprietary Apple format for iBooks store” while, they claim, the WePad is better for supporting “all open formats, additionally premium formats”. This repeats their statement which was criticised after our latest TechCrunch post.