How two young Dutch entrepreneurs are shaking things up in the media industry by Henning Kornfeld

Two Dutch entrepreneurs in their late twenties who are more comfortable wearing hoodies than formal suits have succeeded in achieving something in Germany where even reputable media organizations have failed. They have set up an online kiosk, which sells articles from magazines, national daily newspapers as well as the regional press, including “Der Spiegel”, “FAZ” and “Bild am Sonntag”. The two entrepreneurs are Marten Blankesteijn and Alexander Klöpping, founders of the start-up Blendle, which launched in Germany in mid-September. The important thing about their new online kiosk is that readers purchase a single article rather than full newspaper or magazine editions. Publishers set their own prices for articles that cost from one cent for a short notice in a regional newspaper and 1.99 Euros for a headline story in “Der Spiegel”.

During its first few weeks the German media’s response to Blendle was substantial and overwhelmingly positive – journalists are apparently among the most enthusiastic users. This platform is visually attractive and extremely user friendly. Articles can even be ‘returned’ if readers don’t like them or if they’re unsuitable.

But anyone who expects Blendle founders Blankesteijn and Klöpping to rescue print journalism or even the media industry will probably still be disappointed in half a year or so from now. The “Rhein Zeitung” from Coblenz, a regional newspaper with a circulation of 187,000, has just reviewed its early venture with Blendle. According to this, two weeks after its launch it had sold 100 individual articles through the online kiosk. That’s equivalent to sales worth 49 Euros. These are very low absolute figures, but there’s also some good news for the “Rhein Zeitung”. Thanks to Blendle it could boost its overall number of purchased articles by 15 %.

Obviously, there are plenty of people who appreciate and use a product like Blendle: they’re comfortable in the digital world, they’re interested in excellent journalism apart from the news and they’re also willing to pay for this. However, they don’t want to be tied to individual media brands. Nevertheless, Blendle’s acceptance might be adversely affected by the confusing pricing of publishers. Many of their articles for sale on Blendle are also available free of charge on their own websites.

The Blendle venture also represents a risk for publishers, since theoretically they could be damaging their own case. Readers who until now were obliged to buy or subscribe to the full edition of a newspaper or magazine are happy to purchase just a single article. Yet the opposite is also true – thanks to the wide range of Blendle options infrequent newspaper readers can also become regular readers or subscribers.

The discussion about the sale of individual articles over the online kiosk almost always focuses on the opportunities and risks of this model for the media industry, while writers’ interests are scarcely taken into consideration. But there are also new perspectives for them: even before Blendle, Pocketstory (www.pocketstory.com), a similar online kiosk, was also launched in Germany. Individual journalists can also offer texts on this portal if they have the copyright for them. In practice, however, the point is to re-use texts that have already appeared elsewhere. The writers receive 70 per cent of the profits that Pocketstory earns from the sale of their articles.

Pit Gottschalk, former editor-in-chief and manager at Axel Springer, already arranges contracts between writers and Pocketstory through his Mediapreneure company. He hopes that Blendle will soon make this option available as well. Gottschalk has noticed that nowadays most writers still find it difficult to slip into a seller’s role and actively promote their own articles. At the same time, he observes their increasing curiosity and growing desire to have a go at this. The new online kiosk could therefore promote journalists’ entrepreneurial skills. One thing is certain: Blendle and similar platforms are a big experiment for all those involved.

By Henning Kornfeld

Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright

This blog was originally published on ELit Literature House Europe on 15 October 2015.

Category: ELit Literature House Europe Observatory

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