Verve Wireless’s mission is to save the local paper by making it mobile. It provides publishers with the technology to create mobile Web sites, so readers can read the paper on their cell phones. Verve or the newspaper then sell ads on those sites. Verve already powers mobile versions of 4,000 newspapers from 140 publishers, including the Associated Press, McClatchy, and the New York Times Regional Media Group.
The A.P. started using its Verve-powered Mobile News Network in May. It apparently liked it enough to invest in the company. Verve Wireless has raised $3 million in its second round of fundraising, led by its biggest customer, the Associated Press. Iron Capital and Crosscut Ventures also participated in the round.
Since May, 728 A.P. member newspapers have joined the network. Its iPhone application, which delivers daily headlines and photos and lets users watch slideshows or videos and text or email stories to friends, took the runner-up spot in the Apple Design Award competition. The investment in Verve is rare for the news organization.
Verve’s chief executive, Art Howe, is the first to admit that he’s betting on an industry that’s under siege. Newspapers’ strength is providing local news and information and the mobile Web is the logical outlet for local content, argues Mr. Howe, who is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer and is himself owner of 50 local papers. “Mobile is actually a better way to reach people than print or even Web. It’s versatile, immediate, travels and is just as compelling–if it’s done right–as a Web site or a printed page.”
People are increasingly using their phones to surf the Web. Of the 95 million mobile Internet subscribers, 40 million actively use their phones to go online, double the number two years ago, according to Nielsen Mobile. Thirteen million use their phones to read the news, and a cell phone version of a Web site extends a site’s reach by 13 percent.
Local plus mobile is a winning formula for advertisers too, says Tom Kenney, Verve’s president. There is still no better way for the local florist or bakery to reach potential customers than the daily newspaper, he argues, and mobile makes that even easier. A Mexican restaurant can send a reader a coupon for a free margarita when they are walking nearby during happy hour, for example, or a car dealer could deliver an ad with a map and walking directions when a user types in an auto-related search.