Brief summary of your research project (between 125 and 250 words). The abstract should cover only what appears in the original paper.
In this research report I will focus on Blendle, a digital newspaper stand. The main purpose of this research is to have a clear view of the platform and an idea of what it is exactly. I also want to know about its popularity among the countries where the platform is available and which countries that is. Finally I want to know if people see a future in Blendle and platforms similar to it or if they think it is doomed to fail.
Blendle, iTunes of journalism, ‘pay-per-story’ platform, buy-by-the-slice, Micropayments
This research will focus on the platform Blendle. I have been interested in this platform ever since it launched. It had a lot of buzz in the Netherlands and I was wondering how the platform developed since. I study ‘Communication and Multimedia Design’ which is very focused on new media and the minor I am doing in Stuttgart is the contrary. The publishing minor is more focused on print. Therefore Blendle is the good crossover between the minor and my study. I was also very interested if people outside of the Netherlands knew of Blendle and if it had become a global thing.
In this research report I will explore what this platform is exactly, who started it and what is the idea behind it. From what countries are the people that know it and do they actually use it. I will also research the competition of this platform and try to find out if these type of platforms have a future.
THE GOLDEN SOLUTION
There is not a lot of existing literature about Blendle. This Dutch platform is very well known in the Netherlands but it is not as well established in other countries. It is also relatively knew, it was founded in 2014 which is another reason why there is not a lot of literature written about Blendle. Also the papers written about the topic are mainly in Dutch.
In the Dutch essay “How can the heart of journalism keep beating” (2017), economist Harry van Dalen discusses modern journalism and how it should change. The rise of digital newspaper helps a little bit with keeping traditional newspapers alive but this old form of media is not reaching nearly as many people as it used to. Publishers are desperate for a solution but nobody knows what the best one is, there is no real vision for the future. Newspapers do not focus on just news anymore, they are all over the place which results in a lack of quality. If this continues, newspapers will soon become useless. Platforms like Blendle reinforce this effect. At its launch it was presented as the iTunes for newspapers and this is where it goes wrong. When the music industry changed, music artists needed to change their revenue system as well. Platforms as iTunes and Spotify changed the market. Nowadays Artists no longer earn money with royalties and record sales, they earn most of it with concerts and merchandize. Right now platforms like Blendle bring newspapers to the same system and this undermines the essence of newspapers. This course needs to change because it will not work for journalism industry. Newspapers are not people with a huge following like a celebrity but they depend heavily on their readers. These readers need to learn that news is not free, trustworthy news costs money and the search to the golden revenue sysyem will be very hard.
In this report I will mainly use research from secondary sources. I on multiple news outlets and technology blogs to find the information needed to answer my research question. Academic articles on the topic are almost impossible to find. With news articles it is always hard to validate the fact and find out of the author is trustworthy. That is why I used multiple sources for the same facts, this makes the results more reliable. However this still means I am limited to the opinions of others.
Apart from the online research, I set out a questionnaire to find out if people are familiar with the Blendle. I wanted to know if people from the countries where Blendle is launched know the platform and if they ever used it. The questions I sent them can be found in the appendices along with their answers. Because Blendle is only launched in a few countries I only had a limited amount of people I could ask. I managed to find people from the Netherlands, Belgium and the USA. Therefore I am still missing people from Germany and Switzerland which makes this study not complete. I also only have eight people which is a low number if interviewees and does not give a representative views of the whole country.
BLENDE: THE ITUNES OF JOURNALISM.
Blendle is a digital news kiosk that was established in April 2014. Users can read newspapers and magazines but they can also purchase separate articles. It is a so called ‘pay-per-story’ platform and therefore also called the iTunes of journalism. You only pay for the articles you actually want to read and if the reader is not content with the story they can ask for a refund. The mission of Blendle is to make the world’s best journalism available to everyone.
Blendle was as start-up founded by Alexander Klöpping and Marten Blankesteijn. Blankesteijn is a relatively unknown Dutch author and journalist and therefore, when he had the idea of Blendle, he had some trouble of getting the start-up going. Not a lot of people knew him and most publishers did wanted nothing to do with it. That changed when he got Alexander Klöpping on board. Klöpping is a Dutch internet entrepreneur, blogger and columnist who wrote a book called “Wikileaks: everything you we’re not supposed to know”. He also appears regularly on Dutch talk shows which makes him a popular media figure in the Netherlands. Because of this he has a lot of credibility in the Dutch media and when he joined Blankesteijn the platform took off. In April of 2017 Blankesteijn left Blendle to spend more time with his family. It is now run by Klöpping and the other employees.
At the moment, Blendle is available in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and the United States of America. Blendle launched first in the Netherlands and it immediately skyrocketed. Compared to other countries, the Dutch people read a lot more newspapers. They are in the top ten of the world of newspaper readers and this makes the market quite unique. This is one of the reasons why Blendle did so well on the Dutch news market. Another factor is that a lot of Dutch newspapers have paywalls which makes it impossible to read news online. People did not want to pay for all the separate subscriptions on newspaper website so they went to Blendle to purchase individual articles.
Blendle is also active in Belgium but the success there is sufficiently less. Not all Belgium newspapers were on board with Blendle and if you miss the big newspapers, nobody wants to use your platform. The reason why the Belgium negotiations with the publishers did not work is simple. The media there is a lot more conservative than in the Netherlands. Where the Dutch media eventually said ‘yes, we want to help, this is the future of news’. The Belgium newspapers said ‘no thanks’.
More than a year after Blendle launched in the Netherlands and Belgium, the platform launched in Germany and Switzerland. Here the success was just like the success in Belgium, not that great. The profits were and still are low, there was no advertising and a lot of the German newspapers do not have the paywall that the Dutch newspapers do which makes the platform less necessairy.
Quite quickly after the launch Axel Springer (one of the largest digital publishing houses in Europe) and The New York Times (American daily newspaper) invested three million euros in Blendle. With this investment Blendle gained excess to a massive network of publishers of which wanted to make new investors. This also meant Blendle could eventually be introduced to the American market.
In 2016 Blendle launched in the USA. In the American market, micropayments are a pretty radical alternative. Adblockers are threatening the traditional publishing houses who rely on advertising to fund their businesses. Readers are annoyed by the endless pop-ups and paywalls and Blendle is offering a solution for that. However, according to Columbia Business School professor Rita McGrath, the success of the micropayments depends how easy it is to pay. In the case of Blendle this is very easy so it has a change to succeed.
To find out if Blendle is actually known in these countries, I asked seven people from three different countries four questions. These were the Results and the full questionnaire can be found in the appendices.
All persons I asked knew about the platform. They either knew it from television or heard from it from others. Half of them used it once but the others had never used it. Two of the interviewees preferred to buy a whole newspaper, one of them preferred to keep reading the news on free websites and one thought it Blendle is a great idea.
Both persons had never heard of the platform and they didn’t really read newspapers. They follow the news on social media and would not like to start paying for news.
The two interviewees from the USA had both never heard of Blendle. One of them would rather pay per article than buy the whole newspaper. The other one would buy the whole newspaper, unless the prices were competitive.
Myjour was an online newspaper magazine kiosk that went offline in 2016. Compared to Blendle their profit was sufficiently less and this meant its downfall. Another factor that ruined this platform was the fact that they did not have a famous spokesperson like Alexander Klöpping. A sympathetic guy who is deeply passionate about his subject and who is a natural in front of the cameras. In the Netherlands this is now known as the Alexander-Klöpping-effect. Myjours biggest problem was that nobody knew them.
Tapview is very similar to Blendle. This Australian start-up offers a single signup across all publishers. On Tapview, readers can purchase content with a single click on the website of the maker of the content. This content access system is similar to Blendle but the difference is that it does not offer a different news website. They let the user stay on the websites of the original news outlet and embed a Tapview button into online articles for users to instantly access content. Blendle offers something similar, the Blendle button.
Apple News launched in the US, the UK, and Australia last year. There is currently no overlap with the market that Blendle attracts, but it is one of the companies that most likely to become a competitor. There are several rumours that Apple is planning to start allowing publishers to charge per news article via the app. The new policy would give publishers the option to introduce micropayments themselves. This would be a big threat to Blendle, Apple is much more established and would become a major concurrent that could maybe even mean the downfall of Blendle.
OTHER EXAMPLES OF MICROPAYMENTS
Esquire made an article specific paywall for an article about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The interesting thing about this paywall was that the majority of the revenues would go towards a scholarship fund at Marquette University in the name of murdered foreign correspondent James Foley, who was beheaded by the Middle Eastern terrorist group ISIS. Esquire earns money on an article and at the same time they raise money for a good cause.
There are a lot of different options about the future of platforms like Blendle. A lot of people see a future in micropayments and Blendle is mainly seen as a way to experiment in the paid content realm without taking really big risks. Publishers keep looking for alternative streams of revenue and Blendle is one of those alternatives. There is a digital leap into the future needed and we need new platforms like Blendle to think up new business models and get everybody on board. Even Klöpping himself says that Blendle is an experiment and a process
One the reasons people think Blendle will success is the curation of content. There is a team of editors who read a massive amount of articles every day in order to get the best stories into the platform newsletter. Compared to all the noise on social media like Facebook and Twitter, Blendle offers the best portraits and original reporting that are being made every day.
Philippe Remarque, editor in chief of the major Dutch daily newspaper de Volkskrant, is also positive about the service. He considers the partnership between the Volkskrant and Blendle worthwhile because he thinks Blendle helps the newspaper reach and educate a younger audience. The growth demonstrated by its one million registered users signals Blendle as a promising new media. It embodies all of the conundrums of the industry and makes people believe it is here to stay. However it will be a struggle because it is a new way of reading the news and not everyone is willing to change.
Joanna Alexandre, a licensing director for The Economist says that Blendle is interesting because it helps people who are not familiar with a certain newspaper, get to know it. Still eventually may lead to new subscriptions. She also finds the Blendle business model more transparent than apps that work on an all-you-can-read model. With the model Blendle is using, the publishers receive money per article and you know the metrics of their articles. They can see if people find and article worthwhile and with the all-you-can-read-model you have no clues about your readers. These metrics are incredible valuable in these modern times.
Despite the praise for the service a lot of people do not think the service will succeed. The fact that it succeeded on the Dutch market is no guarantee for the English speaking market. Where the Dutch market is very small and it makes a lot of sense for big newspaper to join, this is not the case for the English speaking market. The Dutch market has a few established newspapers that are already well-positioned in this small market but the English market is enormous and there are a lot of many established publishers. It would be impossible to get all of them to join a platform like Blendle and why would a user pay for an article if you can find the same content for free at another newspaper or magazine?
Another reason why Blendle is not likely to succeed is the cross-subsidy system the news industry is using. They have the high audience stories that don’t cost much to produce (like sport articles), support low audience stories that are more expensive to publish (like foreign coverage). The buy-by-the-slice Blendle revenue will not contribute enough to keep this system working.
There’s also a lack of serendipity. Well-edited media is a clever combination of diverse subjects that trigger curiosity for topics outside the usual range of interests. This will probably not work in Blendle’s model, because it relies on points like trending and staff picks . Not a lot of media will be willing to give up the opportunity to capture the reader’s attention by giving Blendle all the power.
If you look at similar markets, like the music industry, you could conclude that Blendle will fail. Once the user was given the opportunity to buy each song separately (on iTunes for example), the market collapsed and there was no turning back. And the music industry was not even competing against free content like the journalism industry is. The only competition was illegal piracy and for the journalism industry it is paid contents versus often very good free content.
The last reason is that people are simply not familiar with micropayments. Due to services like Spotify, they are used to flat-rate subscription services which is something Blendle would need to survive in the long-term. A ‘all-you-can-read’-model is popular with costumers but not with publishers because this would undermine the primary revenue stream of publishers. This means that the newspaper would have no reason to take that route if it were offered. This tension between what works for consumers and what works for publishers is one of the biggest hurdles in Blendle’s growth strategy.
Did the research project meet your aim or answer your research question(s)? Did the research project meet your research objectives? What are the main findings of the research?
This research report gave me new insights in the media industry and made me help look more critical at Blendle.
Do you have any overall conclusions on the research process itself?
Where should further research be focused? (Typically, this will consider two points: firstly, new areas of investigation implied by developments in your project, and secondly, parts of your work which were not completed due to time constraints and/or problems encountered.)
To continue I would advise to interview more people to get a better image of the global spread of the platform. Also it is worth looking into how the platform can change for the future. After the research I think Blendle as it is, will cease to exist. They need a new system and this is the case for the whole newspaper industry.
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Author unknown. (2014). Blendle biedt hele kranten en tijdschriften. Telegraaf [Online]. Available at: http://www.telegraaf.nl/digitaal/23157231/__Blendle_biedt_hele_kranten_en_tijdschriften__.html [Accessed 30 June 2017].
Axel Springer (2017). Company. [online] Available at: http://www.axelspringer.de/en/Company_39573.html [Accessed 30 June].
Bakhuys Roozeboom, F. (2015). Marten Blankesteijn (28) over het succes van Blendle en de weg naar wereldheerschappij. [online] AD Informatie. Available at: http://www.adformatie.nl/nieuws/marten-blankesteijn-28-over-het-succes-van-blendle-en-de-weg-naar-wereldheerschappij [Accessed 30 June 2017].
Blankesteijn, M. (2015). Pay-per-Story Platform Blendle Goes Live in Germany.
With Over 100 Titles on Board. [online] Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/on-blendle/pay-per-story-platform-blendle-goes-live-in-germany-37b53dbf360b [Accessed 30 June 2017].
Beljaars, C. (2016) De digitale krantenkiosk Blendle: beroemd in Nederland, gedoemd in België?. [online] Catowie. Available at: https://catobeljaars.com/2016/04/01/de-digitale-krantenkiosk-blendle-beroemd-in-nederland-gedoemd-in-belgie/ [Accessed 30 June 2017].
Brown, M. (2017). Apple News May Force Users to Pay to Read Articles. [online] Inverse. Available at: https://www.inverse.com/article/33792-apple-news-free-pay-per-article [Accessed 3 July 2017].
Brussen, B. (2010). Het Alexander Klöpping-effect. [online] 925. Available at: http://925.nl/archief/2010/01/29/het-alexander-klopping-effect/ [Accessed 30 June 2017].
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