Blendle: Bite-sized saviour of journalism or future apathy victim?

Blendle: Bite-sized saviour of journalism or future apathy victim?

Christian Sharp

Christian Sharp

It started long ago; declines in readership, subscriptions and ad revenues, inevitably leading to smaller editorial teams and lower page counts. Whilst print and online media isn’t ‘dead’ by any measure, it’s certainly had a lot of troubles.

By and large, most publications are still struggling to find ways to maintain quality journalism and keep solvent. Even the Financial Times, with its subscriptions of up to £700 a year, was pretty quiet on profitability figures this year, although it reported ‘rising revenue’ and firm profits the previous year. We’ve also seen a few publications get into trouble for not making it explicit that certain links are to advertisers and represent commercial links, rather than purely advisory ones, so it’s not an easy path to tread.

Enter Blendle: The app that blog imagetries to do for print publications what Flipboard did for onlines, letting you mix and match articles from different magazines and newspapers. Offering an ever-growing number of magazines and papers to choose from, including Advertising Age and the FT, it lets you browse the first few lines of articles to see what might interest you, then pay a very small amount – generally $0.05 - $0.45 - for full access to individual pieces.

Having suffered through all too many ‘e-reader / screen-reader / online print publications’ over the years, the Blendle interface is a pleasant surprise. With ‘staff picks’ on the opening ‘featured’ page, the magazines at first – worryingly – look like a photo of the print version, but hovering over articles brings up a pleasant re-rendering of the preview which vaguely reminds me of an old Adobe Acrobat document.

The images are still a little fuzzy on a full screen; they’re obviously not re-drawn, but the text is very readable. Being in beta, the team seems acutely aware that having a good experience is vital for early users – so you generally get a $2.50 trial credit to play around with the service upon registration.

There are some neat additional features, but at the moment, the main thing holding it back is the spectrum of publications signed up to the service. And whilst I can understand that there’s a risk the service might undermine and cut magazine subscriptions, it could also increase readership and revenue because it’s so easy (and quick) to use for attention-poor readers (that is to say, all of us). It could also help publications which might have lowered or completely abandoned their paywalls in recent years.

The mobile app is out and it’s very polished. I noticed a couple of reviews commenting that they thought the articles were too expensive – and it would definitely be easy to rattle through $10 or so in a week – but if the service is aimed primarily at longreads and analytical from the likes of the FT or the Economist, then this might not be a problem.

My other main worry for the service is more fundamental; there is so much free news and content out there, so many ways of aggregating content competing for so little time. Will people be motivated enough to sign up, use and stay on the service? Only time will tell.

Either way, Blendle is a positive development for journalism and publishing. It’s no silver bullet, but every little helps.

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