Europe's biggest publisher embraces the WePad

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[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.

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  • http://www.biztechology.com Dan Root

    Not feelin’ this… Maybe the WePad is pumping some ad revenue into their publication? Who knows. FAIL.

    • corn

      Here’s the thing, wepad may have the advantage against the iPad in terms to specs (Flash, Camera) but the problem is, unlike the apple tablet which has a mogul app-kingdom called, WePad has what?

      Bragging is good if you can back it up, but in the case of WePad I think everything is bloated.

      I’m still waiting for the Courier Tablet by Microsoft (though..)

      • Mark A

        Maybe it’s just that we Europeans are a bit fussier about what we buy and the iPad just doesn’t cut it in the eyes of the major publishers.

      • Steve

        Yeah, I bet there’s a good chance this no-name manufacturer will produce something as elegant and useful as an Apple product.

        LOL!

      • sir*mez

        @corn WePad has the Android Market to back it up!!

  • andy rooney

    second that, Dan. Fail!

    • a publisher

      Thanks for the in-depth analysis and opinion, very useful and informative.

      It sure sounds like a lot of vaporware and wishful thinking so far, but it would be great to see a viable ipad alternative running android.

      Running android would give it access to a huge developer base and it could mean a huge success.

      As a publisher I am also very reluctant to have to yield content and pricing control to a third party (apple) who applies its own rules very arbitrarily.

      Done right (ok a big if) it could be a winner.

  • http://www.cluboholic.com kyriakos

    looks like some healthy competition with decent backing. the fact that is local to Germany makes it harder for apple to get into that market.

  • j-g-faustus

    Seems like they gave up on Apple when their magazine disappeared from the app store without notice.

    Knowing nothing about the WePad apart from the name, I still imagine that the iPad is a superior product. But it is possible for Apple to strangle the iPhone/iPad if they try to control it too much.

    After all, too much control from Apple’s side seems to be one of the major factors that let IBM PCs and Microsoft take over 95% of the market as developers fled to the open PC platform (open in the sense that anyone could write applications for it):
    http://www.bloggingstocks.com/2007/04/09/apple-vs-microsoft-battle-of-the-brands/

    Looking forward to see the reviews when the products are available. Competition should be healthy in any case.

    • Ajax Jones

      “Knowing nothing about the WePad apart from the name, I still imagine that the iPad is a superior product.”

      I imagine a lot of things too

      • j-g-faustus

        I suppose I deserve that :) My imagination is fueled by Apple having a history of making user friendly products.

        But my primary point is that even if the iPad turns out to be superior (hypothetically speaking) it might still end up as a minor player in the tablet market, if other platforms can provide “good enough” usability along with more freedom for content and apps.

      • a publisher

        I agree, as much as I like apple products, I hope this happens. I really dislike how apple wants to control content distribution and pricing.

  • http://www.dumblittleblogger.com Vishal Sanjay

    Apple Ipad can be of great revenues to the print industry as they can have an e publication, because no one will be using papers to read news anymore.

  • Mark

    I think its a good alternative. It might not become as big as the Ipad, but it will be popular. Good job.

  • http://wasgehtab.posterous.com/ Tueksta

    fail-schmail – this is a major competition for apple, even though us-patriots won’t admit it. Proprietary formats have been dominating the markets for too long, it’s about time for some serious innovation of our own culture, instead of all these marketing-stunts from apple to get even bigger revenues.

    • http://mike-pulsifer.org/ Mike

      Yeah, damn that proprietary ePub format Apple’s using.

      Oh, wait….

      • Mark

        It is not proprietary but does have DRM, correct?

      • http://mike-pulsifer.org/ Mike

        And you should still be able to read non-DRMed books on the device just like you can with audio.

        Apple’s not the only one using DRM (Kindle). My suspicion is that it’s the publishers demanding it. Ire should be directed at them if DRM’s your issue.

  • fedd

    i like wepad specs, but the product name is derived, which is a bad sign.

    • tim

      I agree… the name makes it look like a cheap clone…

      • Sam

        April Fools?

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  • http://www.vivatravelguides.com Jason Halberstadt

    I bet we’ll see a great diversity of pad clones running android like wepad that are pushed by every big publisher, retailer, distributor, etc.
    As a web start up that also publishes books (travel guides), we’re seeing that all of these guys in the traditional book trade distribution are freaking out about evaporating print volumes, and are jumping on any deal that will get them a percentage of the exploding ebook, book app, and device market by using their existing sales teams, customer relationships and industry influence. I’m certain we’ll see many more of these kinds of devices and deals.

  • W3bdev

    Fail? Please….

    Apple followers always bash competition, no questions.

    This device is flash enabled, and if it does it well, will be a VERY popular device.

  • dasein

    The name sounds like adult diapers.

    Anyone know what the price of WePad is/will be? It’s never mentioned anywhere and it’s not on their website…

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  • Steve Arbeit

    I love to see Bernd Buchholz replaced someday – and all the decision he is making right now will be reason enough.

    Instead of being thankful to Apple that they invent new markets for their digital content((think iTunes, think iPhone, now iPad)) – they want to punish Apple for taking their share and not being humble enough to the publishers in Europe.

    Wait and see. We will see old kingdoms fail and new kingdoms arise :) Only publisher in Germany that could make it is Burda so far. They understand but they are still too slow …

  • apple schmapple

    The biggest asset Apple has is the blind fanaticism of its followers. Look at some of the comments here for proof. Pathetic how Apple fanboys declare the iPad “superior” without ever having seen the competitor. Simply pathetic.

    I hope the WePad gets sold on US soil, can’t wait to see Flash-enabled sites on a nice, non-locked-down tablet.

    • Steve Arbeit

      Sure, “…non-locked-down tablet…”. Do you think European publishers will give away their content without DRM. Free for all to copy? You must be dreaming. Get the wePad. MAyby you can use it with your Ubuntu laptop.

      It´s about market size. And yes, I believe the iPad market size will be substantially bigger.

    • Steve

      Apple has a history of producing well thought out products that are very easy to use and carry high resale value.

      What hardware has Neofonie produced? Have you even heard of this company before?

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  • fenway2k

    Even if the company is small, if they make a technically superior product and build it on the red-hot Android platform, they can instantly be a serious competitor to Apple.

    Don’t forget that Android is a very popular OPEN MARKET platform, which means all you have to do is make an Android-compatible device. You instantly have access to all that Android has to offer, which right now is just as much as apple as far as apps go.

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  • Ender Wiggin

    I think Apple should team up with China to create the kind of free world that BOTH seem to dream of…

    Technical superiority still should be numer two right after ethics.

    Ender

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