Friday, March 15, 2013

Rumble begins to sign up local and regional newspapers for their identical free mobile and tablet apps. sold under the vendor's name

Last year in November the app developer Rumble announced that it had secured $1 million in investment and had created seven positions in sales and marketing.

Now the Philadelphia and Tel-Aviv is selling its app solutions to small newspaper publishers in Pennsylvania and the Southeast. "Sell" might be the wrong word, as the company has managed to launch 38 identical mobile/tablet apps into the Apple App Store in a very short time.

One of the newest is for the Tuscaloosa News, a Halifax Media Group newspaper. Tuscaloosa News is a universal app like the others, and other than the paper's flag at the top is identical all the other apps from Rumble.

Each of the apps coming from the developer is sold under the Rumble News Ltd. name, rather than either the publisher or newspaper property. Each app is designed absolutely like the others, with a the typical RSS feed design apparent in the mobile apps, and a Flipboard-OnSwipe like layout for the iPad version.

Inside, each story has the same layout and even includes the Rumble logo on top of the story. This appears to be a mistake as other similar apps, such as for the Philadelphia Weekly, show the paper's logo on top of each story. Why the logo must appear is an odd design choice, but it is consistent.

Each of the apps offers the content free of charge, and none seemed to feature any in-app advertising – though it was impossible to look at every single app released so far.

Why would so many newspapers sign up with the same developer to launch identical apps? Why would a newspaper publisher allow their apps to appear under the name of the developer rather than their own? The answer should be very predictable: free.

Rumble is offering its apps free of charge to newspaper publishers, even getting the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association to endorse the company's efforts. In fact, the developer lists several state newspaper associations as partners on its website.

I would have to guess that the goal here is to build up an ad network, or else to begin charging publishers a year from now, after the publishers have become comfortable with the apps and do not build their own to replace them.

As mobile apps the Rumble apps are standard stuff: RSS feeds provide the content to the news sections. There are a minimal amount of features presented one of which is Personal Channels: press the tab takes you to what looks like a Twitter feed. The first person at the top is Al Azoulay – who is he, he's the CEO of Rumble.

As all the apps are brand new there are few reader reviews to be found except on one app, New Pittsburgh Courier. That app is the only app that I could find that had any reviews, and they are all positive, which I found a bit odd. Looking at the reviews most have only reviewed one app ever, and it was this Rumble app. Searching for more information on this new developer and all the apps being released I found a press release on the company and, lo and behold, one of the read reviews was used in it. Odd, no? (There are no reviews for the apps inside Google Play, either, except for one anonymous 5-star rating for the same new Pittsburgh Courier app. In Google Play all the apps also appear under Rumble's name rather than the publisher's.)

I attempted to contact the company by calling the number listed on the website. The call was answered automatically with the message that the Google Voice user was not available, no company was mentioned. I wanted to know exactly how monetization would work and what the company plans to charge its new newspaper clients after the one year of free service. That, I guess, will have to wait – efforts to reach several newspaper executives were fruitless, with several papers listing wrong phone numbers and extensions on their websites.