In an continuing push to reinvent itself for the digital generation, Voice Media Group, parent company of the Village Voice and 10 other alt-weekly newspapers, relaunched its BestOf app on Monday. The app, available as a free download for iOS devices and Android devices, includes local city data for the 11 markets served by Voice print publications as well as for 21 other markets.
The move represents one of the Denver-based company’s most ambitious incursions into the digital terrain since it was founded last year by three executives of Village Voice Media Holdings. That company, which had owned the Voice and its sister publications since 2005, has had a troubled relationship with online properties. Backpage.com, its Craigslist-style classified website, was repeatedly accused of enabling child-sex trafficking on its Adult Services section.
Scott Tobias, Voice Media Group’s co-founder and chief officer, vowed a fresh start when he announced a buyout of the newspapers in September 2012, leaving Backpage.com behind and focusing on the company’s core brands, which have struggled to retain their relevance in the 21st century.
In a statement Monday, Tobias said the new BestOf app comes with an overhauled functionality that creates a location-based user experience. The app gives users recommendations on nearby things to do and see nearby, with results powered by a combination of readers and Voice editors.
“It completely simplifies the process of finding the best places to go in a way that just makes sense,” Tobias said.
It remains to be seen whether the app will help the Voice compete in a market dominated by Yelp Inc. (NYSE:YELP), whose ubiquitous user-generated reviews and ratings attract roughly 100 million unique visitors a month. The company, which generates the bulk of its revenue from local businesses, is simultaneously one of the most powerful and most reviled companies on the Web, sparking extortion charges from angry merchants who say they are punished for not advertising on the site.
In October 2012, the Voice’s previous owner sued Yelp over the use of the phrase “Best Of,” which it said it has been using since 1979. The lawsuit was “settled to the satisfaction of the parties” less than a month later, according to Law 360. In 2011, the Voice also sued Time Out New York over its annual “Best of NYC” issue. Village Voice Media bought the trademark to “Best of NYC” in 2008. Time Out New York countersued, however, claiming that the phrase is generic and that the trademark should never have been awarded. The Voice reportedly abandoned that fight, according to PaidContent.
The new BestOf not only gives the Voice a change to re-establish its ownership of the phrase (many commentators derided the copyright lawsuits as frivolous), it also helps it to continue testing its reach in markets where it does not currently have a presence -- including large markets such as Washington, San Diego, Philadelphia and elsewhere. It also represents a homecoming of sorts to cities such as San Francisco and Seattle, both of which are home to alt-weeklies formerly owned by Voice Media Group.