It is one of the poster child’s of the Dutch startup scene: Blendle, the Spotify for journalism. Now, they have raised a new funding round with Nikkei, the publishing powerhouse famous for the Nikkei Index and owning the Financial Times, and the Dutch, pension fund backed VC fund Inkef Capital. One of the founders, Marten Blankesteijn, leaves the company after 6,5 years. What does this mean for the future of the promising startup?
Although the size of the round hasn’t been announced, it is safe to assume it is in the million-euro range. However, rumors were spreading that Blendle had a tough time raising a follow-up round after they made a big splash with the €3M that New York Times and Axel Springer put together. Not disclosing the size of the next round, usually means bad news: it’s either a “down round” (raised against a lower valuation as the previous one) or a relatively small amount. Or worse: both.
Blendle’s founder Marten Blankesteijn (image right) leaving at the same time is another sign the startup might not be going crescendo. A founder leaving in an operational role always casts a bit of a shadow. Especially in the case of Blankesteijn, who, on the contrary to popular belief, is the real inventor of Blendle and not its current CEO-founder, Alexander Klöpping. Although the latter has a very influential role in Dutch media and ran a gadget webshop, is he the one to stir the company into clear waters?
Savior of journalism
The company has been applauded by several international news outlets as the savior of journalism. However, critics are sure to point out that the business model behind Blendle appears shaky: “I see many reasons to cast strong doubt about Blendle’s sustainability as a global business, and I see no benefit for digital media”, Frederic Filloux, editor of the Monday Note wrote.
NRC quits Blendle
NRC recently added more fuel to the discussion, in a lengthy post by its editor-in-chief, Peter Vandermeersch. He decided to quit Blendle because it’s killing journalism in the middle-long-term. The editor calculated that profits for Blendle last year (€200.000) were comparable to 400, six-day-subscriptions. The Dutch quality paper counted 241.000 subscribers. In the end, Blendle’s decision to offer a Spotify-like model with Premium, had NRC deciding to break ties with the startup and focus primarily on its own online paywall.
Does Blendle have a future?
The question arises, even with the new funding round, big or small: does Blendle really have a future? Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of Blendle and as a journalist at heart, an avid supporter. I do feel it is time to ask. To me, it’s crystal clear that micropayments only or a Spotify-all-you-can-read model are not sufficient to make the big splash needed to “homerun” Blendle’s mission: sustaining journalism.
Get rid of clunky paywalls
I see only one potential outcome for the company: as a software-as-a-service provider to get rid of the clunky online paywalls newspaper utilize nowadays. Like the one NRC uses: o my God it is awful. Blendle’s swift pay-as-you-go-technology could fill that void perfectly. Although offering paywall solutions may be a less sexy role than saving journalism, it is still a huge problem for publishers that needs fixing. ASAP, if you ask me.
UPDATE: According to Blendle, the current round is not a “down round”, but in fact “not a small sum”. The company spokesperson declines to comment on exact numbers or on the future of the business. He claims the words of Vandermeersch as presented are not the real facts. Furthermore, he urges to point out that MondayNote’s Filloux has written (more) favorably about the business model behind Blendle in this post.