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Local publishers, seeing the boom in text messaging and the Web surfing capabilities of the iPhone, are taking mobile more seriously as a channel for their content and advertising. Clearly, the mobile opportunity for local publishers has now gone beyond banners to embrace text messages, e-mail, video and integration with the ad networks.

At this point, several vendors are working with publishers to mobile-ize them, including Verve Wireless, Crisp Wireless, Local Solutions Network, Zebra Wireless, News Over Wireless and Broadcast Focus.

Verve Wireless President Tom Kenney notes that mobile is “very local centric.” To that end, his company has developed a three-prong strategy to connect the consumer with the local media company:

  1. Deliver easy-to-use, high-quality mobile Web sites.
  2. Provide messaging services that provide a real-time feedback channel from the consumer.
  3. Enable both local and national advertising capabilities.

What will surprise many observers is that Verve claims auto and real estate classifieds are turning out to be an especially strong segment for mobile. Some Verve newspaper partners are pitching real estate advertisers on mobile packages with solid success.

Verve, a 19-person company located in the North San Diego beach town of Encinitas, is currently working with a host of local media companies, including newspapers, alternative newsweeklies, city magazines and local portals.

The company works with local publishers in two ways: as contributing publishers on the Mobile News Network, which consists of AP content and video, supplemented with local content from AP members, or as members of The Verve Network, which consists of putting up everything a local media publisher does, and integrating related local content. For instance, the network serves 10 media outlets in the Tampa Bay area, allowing it to feature local content from any of them.

The extent of the company’s reach is quite wide. “We have signed agreements with 12 newspaper companies and are live with 400+ papers today,” says Kenney. Among them are McClatchy, Freedom Newspapers, New York Times Regional, Journal Communications and Media General.

Verve also works with city magazines and alternative newsweeklies, and works indirectly with media companies via a relationship with MediaSpan, which is especially strong with radio stations. Ten of those MediaSpan sites are now live. The company also works with carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, U.S. Cellular and Virgin Mobile.

While mobile is growing in many healthy ways, Kenney says he is concerned about carrier efforts to impose fees on incremental text messages. Verizon last month said it would introduce 3 cent fees on text messages, although it has apparently retreated on that stance for now.

Unlimited texting is the basis for really building a strong 1:1 relationship with customers, says Kenney, who predicts that the carriers will end up making flat rate volume deals with publishers rather than crimp the marketplace.

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