Voice Media Group Relaunches City Apps — Can Mobile Really Be Alt-Weeklies’ Salvation?

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iupda4c4utydys5jtoo5Voice Media Group, which acquired 11 alt-weeklies around the country back in October, is re-launching its various cities’ mobile apps, which it hopes will become go-to listings and reviews guides for their local markets.

The apps, which are populated with the content from each given city’s alt-weekly are hoping to provide a complete mobile guide for local info, including news content as well as information about restaurants and events. Accompanying this re-launch is the launch of the “Pictureshow” app, which, designed for tablets, lets users scroll through all the images from concerts or other events in various cities provided by the companies’ alt-weeklies. Both apps also allow users to share any of the content through social media, creating an easily-accessible version of their print editions for mobile.

“We believe in technology and we also believe in content,” VMG CEO Scott Tobias told Street Fight last week. “One of our commitments when we took over the company was to uphold that high level of integrity in terms of our journalism but also to push hard and push forward in terms of our digital offerings.”

Tobias says he sees this trend with the publications VMG owns and that their relationship with local businesses has only gotten better. “In many cases, VMG was the first to introduce businesses to their first print ad, their first online ad — and now we’re introducing them to mobile.”

App versions of print publications aren’t new, and a number of other alt-weeklies have already created apps. The East Bay Express offers DIY web ads for local businesses to quickly put up while the Salt Lake City Weekly has a whole daily deals space called the “City Weekly Store.”

Traditional alt-weeklies have long struggled to get their digital offerings on track. While they have local name recognition in print, they have had difficulty competing in markets saturated with mobile and digital local content competitors. But according to Tiffany Shackelford, the executive director at the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, many alt-weeklies, like VMG, are beginning to understand the importance of mobile.

“They get a really fundamental thing … that is that they’ve got to be mobile and they have to be in somebody’s pocket,” Shackelford said. “What made them great when they were paper was the mobility … and they totally get that for the digital age and are acting accordingly.”

Shackelford said that these innovations, as well as their long-standing tradition of being a trusted place for content and local advertising has helped alt-weeklies rebuild a relationship with merchants that seemed in peril a couple of years ago when many new companies were transforming the local marketing landscape.

“When Patch and a lot of the hyperlocals and daily deals kind of thing took off, certainly some of the alt-weeklies felt nervous,” Shackelford said. “But I would say that has almost certainly dissipated … The local ad spend is coming back fast and furious, people are finding easier and cheaper ways to sell mobile. … I think the ‘Alts’ are in a such great position.”

Tobias agreed that alt-weeklies are “ahead of the curve” when it comes to innovation and the launch of the city apps is just an “extension” of their ability to penetrate a local market.

“Readers and users and folks in our market trust our content and continue to look to us for great recommendations and as a great resource for their cities,” Tobias said “These city apps are another great extension of that content and an incredible utility for people to enjoy and experience the markets that they’re living in.”

Isa Jones is an associate editor at Street Fight.