SAN FRANCISCO: The thud of the morning newspaper landing on the front porch may one day be replaced with the beep of download onto a cellphone.
Verve Wireless believes it can save the dying local newspaper in the United States by making it mobile. It offers publishers the technology to create Web sites for cellphones. The company, based in Encinitas, California, already provides mobile versions of 4,000 newspapers from 140 publishers, including Freedom Communications, McClatchy and The New York Times's Regional Media Group.
The Associated Press, its biggest customer, is betting that Verve has the solution to the nagging problem of dwindling print readership. It led a $3 million round of financing in Verve, a rare investment for the news organization.
People are increasingly using their phones to surf the Web. Of the 95 million mobile Internet subscribers in the United States, 40 million actively use their phones to go online, twice the number of two years ago, according to Nielsen Mobile. After portal sites and e-mail services, newspaper content - weather, news, politics, city guides, sports and entertainment - is most popular among mobile users.
Verve's chief executive, Art Howe, says he is convinced that people will always want local news and information - just not in the format of a print newspaper. But to be useful to readers, mobile versions of Web sites "cannot just be Internet lite," Howe warned. The AP recently released a popular iPhone application developed by Verve that lets users scan the day's headlines, send articles to friends and save articles to read later.
"Mobile is actually a better way to reach people than print or even Web. It's versatile, immediate, travels and is just as compelling," said Howe, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter and former owner of 50 local papers.
The problem, said Verve's president, Tom Kenney, is that local papers do not have the resources, expertise or relationships with cellphone carriers to build mobile sites themselves. Verve does it for them, in exchange for a cut of ad revenue.
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