Hearst filled in a few of the information gaps about its new e-reader, which we first reported on last April, but left other questions unanswered. Hearst interactive head Kenneth Bronfin tells Fortune that the publisher plans to launch the device sometime this year. He doesn’t offer any details about how Hearst would begin to enter the e-reader business, but Bronfin is sure that marketing such devices will be a big part of Hearst’s business. He also doesn’t say how this would change Hearst’s relationship with other digital content services companies like LibreDigital, which already distributes the publisher’s newspapers.
– A bigger Kindle: The design goals for the Hearst e-reader calls for a screen that’s roughly the same size of a large magazine, as opposed to the Kindle’s smaller the six-inch display. Hearst feels that the larger screen will appeal to mag readers who are still unsure about reading on increasingly cramped electronic pages, as well as marketers who are also being forced to shrink their ads to fit tiny devices. Like the Kindle, the Hearst e-reader will feature only black and white. When I spoke with an Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) rep at the Kindle 2.0 launch a few weeks ago, the company feels that the technology for color readers hasn’t yet arrived. Still, given the cost of these devices — Amazon’s charging about $360 for the Kindle, which would buy a lot of print mag subscriptions — the prospects for a Hearst e-reader are certainly high, especially as the recession deepens. In any case, Hearst has been working to find a digital component for magazines for the past several months. Hearst Interactive has invested in both its e-book partner FirstPaper and in E-Ink, which helped create Hearst mag Esquire’s digital cover in September.