Is Blendle a solution for the UK, US and the rest of the world?

It’s only been a year since Blendle launched, but already it seems that the self described ‘iTunes of journalism’ is making a positive impact in the publishing industry. The Dutch startup now has over 400,000 users in the Netherlands and recently announced a partnership in Germany with several leading publishers including Der Spiegel, Die Zeit, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as well as international publications,The New York Times, The Economist and more.

This follows a US€3m investment from Axel Springer and The New York Times last October, giving the two companies a 23 per cent stake in the business. However, while all the main German publishers have signed deals with Blendle, Axel Springer hasn’t included its flagship tabloid Bild because it doesn’t want to unbundle its leading brand. “The payment model of Bild is about making a comprehensive offer rather than selling individual articles,” a Springer spokeswoman told the Financial Times. Instead, individual articles will be made available as ‘instant articles’ on Facebook.

Pay as you go publishing

But what is Blendle and how can it make a difference to publishing? Basically it’s a pay-as-you-go business model where users pay per article rather than having to subscribe to a particular service.

Marten Blankesteijn, co-founder of Blendle, argues that the site does not cannibalise news’ publishers existing sites as its users are younger and generally not loyal to a particular title. “If you are not a fan of one brand – if you are promiscuous – then Blendle is really cool,” adds Blankesteijn.

Unlike a paywall, where users typically subscribe on a monthly or yearly basis, Blendle’s users pay per article with publishers receiving a proportion of revenue per article read, rather like the iTunes model of paying per music track downloaded. “At Blendle we hate paywalls,” says the company’s blog. “They make us register at every newspaper or magazine we want to read.” It adds: “They make us pay monthly fees for entire websites, while there’s all kind of stuff on there we don’t actually read.”

Typically articles cost 20 cents each with publishers keeping around 70 per cent of revenue. There is also a refund option if consumers are unhappy with the quality of the article (this accounts for roughly 10 per cent of transactions). Usually articles are accessed on a smartphone via Blendle’s iOS or Android app with users topping up their credit to pay for the articles they read. Whereas in the Netherlands users typically top up their accounts with 10 Euros at a time, in the beta phase Germans topped up with 50 Euros on average.

For many publishers, Blendle offers a potentially use source of incremental source of income from consumers. Which, in an age, where sales from printed newspapers and magazines are falling across the board is obviously most welcome. And while the German publishing industry has been more cushioned from this downturn than most because of a strong subscriber base, publications there are also now starting to suffer. Der Spiegel, which is known for its investigative journalism, now sells around 800,000 copies down from 1m in 2010. It believes selling articles via Blendle is little risk. As Stefan Buhr, circulation director of Der Spiegel, recently told The Financial Times: “This new distribution channel gives us the opportunity to introduce younger target audiences to the brand.” He added: “The way that news is consumed, for example on social networks, makes it necessary to offer individual articles.” However, for readers who discover a title through the Blendle platform they like there is always the possibility they will then go on to subscribe to it. Publishers like The Economist, for example, have also been able to increase their subscriber numbers through Blendle, claims its co-founder Alexander Klöpping.

There’s no doubt Blendle has – in its short life – been successful in the Netherlands and it’s hoped that this success will be replicated in Germany. So what’s next? Clearly the next stage is to use the investment capital to take the service beyond mainland Europe into the UK, US and other parts of the world. It’s a huge challenge, given the proliferation of free English-language content. But if they can attract high quality publishers, especially with long-form content that people are prepared to pay a small amount for, then it could revolutionise online publishing. 

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