Less than six months ago we launched our journalism startup Blendle out of Utrecht in The Netherlands. Today we are very excited to announce that we received $3,8 million in funding from The New York Times Company and German publishing powerhouse Axel Springer, to help our startup expand in Europe.
At Blendle, we hate paywalls.
They make us register at every newspaper or magazine we want to read. They make us pay monthly fees for entire websites, while there’s all kinds of stuff on there we don’t actually read. And we have to visit all kinds of different websites to discover the journalism from print newspapers and magazines we like.
Great journalism deserves a great reading experience. Because of Blendle, the friendly people of The Netherlands can flip through all print newspapers and magazines in their country for free. Only when they actually read an article, they have to pay for that single article. And if they don’t like it, they can instantly refund their money.
Blendle is great for discovering fantastic journalism. 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 site.
Users can also follow subjects (for example bitcoins, or ebola) and journalists. Whenever a new article gets published, they receive an email.
We built Blendle with love for great journalism. It’s a new way for the next generation to discover and read the best articles from newspapers and magazines. With the best user experience possible for journalism.
Blendle currently has more than 130,000 users in The Netherlands. And those users are young — very young for an app that focusses on quality journalism. 60% of our users are between 20 and 35 years of age. The 20 to 25 age group is the biggest group on our site. Blendle is currently only available in The Netherlands. But, our backing by The New York Times and Axel Springer enables us to launch Blendle in other countries soon.
Why we started Blendle
My co-founder (27) and I (27) are both journalists. I’ve been a technology columnist for a Dutch newspaper and Marten wrote a book and was editor at a newspaper with huge circulation. We saw the decline of journalism in The Netherlands first hand. We saw the huge personnel cuts. The struggle with digital publishing. And declining advertising income. Older journalists were telling us all the time that only a couple of years ago they could proudly tell advertisers that that day’s newspaper was completely full—no space for ads anymore that day. The sales guys wouldn’t answer the continuously ringing phone anymore.
We’re extremely worried about the direction of the journalism industry.
Earlier this month former Washington Post editor Robert G. Kaiser wrote an excellent essay for The Brookings Institution on the decline of America’s newspapers with devastating takeaways for those with a vested interest in the industry. He says:
Overall the economic devastation would be difficult to exaggerate. One statistic conveys its dimensions: the advertising revenue of all America’s newspapers fell from $63.5 billion in 2000 to about $23 billion in 2013, and is still falling.
This graph out of his essay is pretty scary for newspaper companies:
And it gets even scarier when then you take a look at this one:
The same dire situation applies to the circulation of newspapers:
The next years are not going to be any easier for print publishers.
The laws of economics cannot be ignored or repealed. Nor can the actuarial tables. Only about a third of Americans under 35 look at a newspaper even once a week, and the percentage declines every year. A large portion of today’s readers of the few remaining good newspapers are much closer to the grave than to high school. Today’s young people skitter around the Internet like ice skaters, exercising their short attention spans by looking for fun and, occasionally, seeking out serious information.
The Big Hairy Audacious Goal we have at Blendle is re-establishing a healthy revenue stream for major news organizations. We’ve done some cool things in the Netherlands. Now it’s time to introduce Blendle to more people in more countries.
The last couple of months
In the last couple of months, my co-founder and I lived through quite a number of milestones with Blendle. It was really exciting when we signed our first newspaper NRC Handelsblad 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).
Today is the biggest milestone of them all. We are truly honored that two of the world’s most influential publishers show so much trust in us. Axel Springer has successfully transformed its business into a digital publishing house with Bild.de and the soon-to-launch European version of Politico.com. And the online strategy of The New York Times serves as a worldwide example for other newspapers and magazines. We believe we can learn a lot from these companies.
I’ll let Robert G. Kaiser have the final words:
News as we know it is at risk. So is democratic governance, which depends on an effective watchdog news media. Both have been undermined by changes in society wrought by digital technologies — among the most powerful forces ever unleashed by mankind. We have barely begun the Digital Age, and there is no point in trying to predict just where it will take us. News certainly has a future, but what that will be is unclear. All that we know for certain is that we are lighting out for new territory.