The first 30 days of the iTunes for newspapers

I’m co-founder of a journalistic startup from the Netherlands called Blendle (the first true iTunes for journalism in the world). Excitement around journalistic startups is quite rare — we’re dealing with the old world of newspapers and magazines. Indeed not the most sexy industry in the world. But currently, against my own expectations, I’m living the startup founder’s dream.

Blendle launched one month ago. In the last couple of months, my co-founder and I lived through quite a number of milestones. It was really exciting when we signed the first contract with a Dutch publisher to have their content appear in Blendle. It was exciting when we signed our first employee. When an article appeared in the Financial Times about what we’re doing. And in The Guardian. And in The Economist. When suddenly, we got a link to a Youtube-video of CNN Chile, where they were talking about our product for 20 minutes in a language we don’t understand. When Vodafone suddenly created TV commercials about us. When a tour bus with 30 editors-in-chief from Finland visited our small office, and they all started taking pictures of the place with their phones. That was kind of weird actually.

A Dutch commercial from Vodafone featuring Blendle

But what’s most exciting are our numbers. One month after being live, we currently have more than 60.000 registered users (which is a lot for such a small country). An incredible percentage of 20% already converted to paying users. Together they topped up their accounts with a six figure number. And half of our users are under 35, a group that traditionally does not pay for newspapers and magazines.

We get this again and again: young people stating proudly on Twitter or Facebook that they paid for journalism in the first time of their lives.

But maybe the biggest milestone comes today. I’ve just finished speaking at the biggest newspaper congress in the world (aptly named, the World Newspaper Congress), for an audience of publishers from Ghana to Georgia and from Belgium to Brazil. And today I could announce that one of the best newspapers in the world, The Economist, is the first English language title to join Blendle, to start selling articles in a pay-per-view-model.

Paying for journalism should be easy
At Blendle, we believe that young people will start paying for journalism again if you make it as easy as possible. Paying for quality journalism should be as easy as buying an app in the App Store.

Paying for an article should only take one click. You should have all magazines and newspapers in one place, without needing to register at different websites to consume articles from different publishers. You should be able to instantly see what your friends have shared, get algorithmic suggestions, or read what’s popular overall. And you should always be able to ask for a refund, if you didn’t like what you got. To us, that sounds like a great way to read articles from the best newspapers and magazines.

To our great pleasure, it’s working. Tens of thousands of users are happy. The publishers are happy, because our users are so young and because not a single person has canceled their subscription (as we know of). Finally, the cannibalization concerns are debunked.

That’s why we started Blendle
Within Blendle, users can see what articles their friends or interesting curators (celebrities, journalists, politicians, radio DJ’s) have shared from the paid sections of today’s newspapers and magazines, and which articles are trending on the platform. The site also enables anyone to share articles from Holland’s best journalists on Facebook and Twitter. No more signing up with different paywalls for every newspaper. Users pay with a single click, and only for the articles they read. New users get €2.50 for free, and can then top up their Blendle wallet.

Until now, it was not possible for Dutch consumers to search for premium content from newspapers and magazines. Blendle is the first paid search engine for newspapers and magazines in the country. If a user wants to follow everything about specific subjects — say, the situation in Pakistan, or bitcoins, or their favorite author — they can set email alerts for those words.
Users always pay a price per article (set by the publisher), but are also able to refund their money if they don’t deem the article worthy after reading it (a fair use policy applies). It’s a pretty cool function that greatly increases the amount of money spent on journalism.

We’re optimists
Journalists and publishers are very pessimistic about their industry most of the time. They see declining readership, declining ad income and mostly: lack of innovation. But, as a founder of a journalistic startup, I can say I’m incredibly optimistic about the future of journalism. Never before it was so easy for two 27-year olds to start a company — and because of that we’re seeing more and more journalistic startups that are extending the reach of the world’s best journalists.

Today we’re incredible proud to add The Economist to Blendle. And I can’t wait to add more world class papers and magazines to Blendle and together experiment with an exciting new business model for journalism.