March 11, 2014 Last Updated 10:02 am

Dutch start-up Blendle wants to be the iTunes for journalism

A healthy dose of skepticism may be a good thing when publishers are approached by new digital media start-ups that want to create their own products… using their content

It appears impossible for print publishers to stop themselves from helping new digital start-ups launch their own branded products using the content they pay to produce. From Flipboard to Zite, from Newsstand app platforms to Facebook’s new Paper, publishers continue to play the game where only the start-ups win.

Blendle-app-lgThe latest entry appears to be Blendle, a new Dutch app start-up that promises to be the iTunes for journalism.

Why third party app developers would want to create these solutions is obvious: it is much easier to create an app or a software solution than it is to build a news organization. Since the newspaper and magazine industry has continuing problems transitioning to digital, they are eager to look for solutions that will prove to be the answer. It is a match made in heaven – at least for the start-ups.

The usual response to criticism concerning these new apps is that “you just don’t understand.” The pitch is that the new app or software solution is the golden egg that will unlock new digital dollars (or in this case, Euros). Also, it will be easy.

But it is odd that publishers, who generally spend the day competing with other media outlets, suddenly don’t mind their content being aggregated into new media vehicles that bare the name of a new company. All the work they do to market their brand is set aside in an effort to help the new app succeed – under the name of the new company, of course.

If it true that print media companies have struggled to build their own, profitable, digital solutions, but it is equally true that none have found massive profits from building the new brands either. Flipboard may be considered the most successful of the new aggregation apps, but the content publishers who have led to Flipboard’s success have not benefited nearly to the level Flipboard has.

Blendle, the Dutch start-up, is a bit different from something like Flipboard in that it is not trying to replicate aggregation apps as much as digital retail outlets such as iTunes. The concept is somewhat similar in that readers will be able to pay for what they want – just as iTunes lets you pay for a single song rather than the whole album, Blendle will let you pay for only the content you read rather than the whole publication.

“Blendle will ensure that reading of quality journalism will be so much fun and so easy, that people are willing to pay,” the company said on its blog. “Meanwhile, we have deals with all the major national publishers – that no other company has succeeded worldwide – and there are already 11,000 people on the waiting list.”

Apparently the Dutch newspapers and magazines participating haven’t talked to the record companies about how the iTunes model is working out for them versus the old distribution channels. Besides, in a nation of nearly 17 million people, 11,000 doesn’t feel like that big a market to share among every major newspaper and magazine.

But Blendle is founded by Alexander Klöpping, a 27 year old Internet entrepreneur and journalist, a bit of a rising rock star, and he knows how to promote his start-up.

Klöpping-sm

Alexander Klöpping

“Not so long ago, people didn’t think individuals were ever going to pay for music again,” Klöpping wrote on Medium. “Pirating was so widespread that a lot of people thought: What service could possibly beat free downloading? And then came iTunes. And then came Spotify. For the first time in their lives, our friends are paying for music. And it doesn’t stop there. They also spend quite a lot of money on apps, even paying for movies and TV-shows with Netflix. However, none of them pay regularly for journalism — they never have. And a lot of publishers think they never will.”

Actually, this is not true at all. Newspaper publishers have been building paywalls for a number of years now. This is something he admits a couple paragraphs later when explaining that readers need to register at individual newspaper and magazine sites, and argues for the need for a central location for all content and explaining the Blendle model.

“Journalism needs an iTunes.”

“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 in the beta,” Klöpping says.

Klöpping may be right, maybe the future is centralized journalism – whether via start-ups like Blendle or via giants like Google. But I’m trying to imagine what journalism looks like in an environment where the reader gets a refund if they do not like what you have written.

Klöpping says Blendle will launch in April, promising to expand the concept to other countries after that.

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