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I tried Blendle, the ‘Netflix of journalism,’ for a week and went broke — but you might not

Les Shu/Digital Trends

In less than a decade, the way we consume news has drastically changed. We’re not waiting for a nightly news broadcast or a daily paper — you get up-to-the-minute breaking news alerts wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, thanks to smartphones.

But while we can easily access a variety of news at our fingertips, many publishers have adapted to the digital landscape by adding paywalls, restricting content to non-subscribers to remain profitable. Maintaining subscriptions to various publications can be tricky, which is why Blendle wants to help. It’s an à la carte service that offers access to popular news stories for a small fee, and it has been dubbed the “Netflix of journalism.”

It’s an à la carte service that offers access to popular news stories for a small fee.

Blendle has been around since 2014, but it was originally only available in the Netherlands and Germany. The company began partnering with major U.S. publishers in 2016, and while it’s technically still in a closed beta, we set up an account through the iOS app.

The comparison to Netflix is a bit of a misnomer: Blendle works more like iTunes, allowing you to select individual stories and pay a small fee, as opposed to paying a monthly subscription fee to access all of its content. The business model is good for casual news readers, but not so much if you’re a news junkie.

Nearly perfect design

Blendle carries a diverse selection of U.S. publications. You’ll find most major newspapers including The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. There’s a good list of magazines as well, including Mother Jones, The New Yorker, as well as industry-specific publications like Ad AgeThere are a few glaring omissions, however, such as The Atlantic.

Les Shu/Digital Trends

You’ll have to look else where if you want access to regional and local magazines, or niche publications. Blendle mostly carries national publications with a large print run. It makes sense not to carry regional or niche publications, as they are more likely to attract readers who are willing to subscribe.

While magazines were up to date, newspapers were consistently a day behind.

Blendle’s website and the mobile app are absolutely gorgeous. It’s easy to search for content via publication, and there’s a curated content tab on the homepage. As you scroll through, you see a headline, image, and a small excerpt for each article. Additionally, you can set up reading lists and alerts to quickly find stories that interest you.

While we liked the service’s design, we did run into the problem of accidentally purchasing stories. All you need to do is tap on a story, and you’ll be charged for it. The good thing is Blendle works as an honor system, providing refunds at the end of each story if you clicked it accidentally, or if you didn’t like the story or reporting itself.

There’s another issue that’s a bit more problematic: While magazines were up to date, newspapers were consistently a day behind. We’re not sure if this is because the service is still in beta, but we’ve reached out to Blendle to learn more.

Small charges add up quickly

Blendle initially seemed too good to be true. Instead of paying for an entire issue of The New Yorker, I could just pay a few quarters for the stories I’ll actually read each week. Pricing depends on the publisher and length of story but, for the most part, almost all content is available for less than $.50. While it sounds like a win-win scenario, we crunched some numbers to see whether the service is really worth it.

Les Shu/Digital Trends

I noted down the number of stories I read for an entire week, to see exactly how much I would spend on Blendle. The total ended up being 66 stories, which costed $33 on Blendle. Apparently, a few cents here and there add up pretty quickly. If I kept up the same pace every week, my Blendle habit would come out to a little over $1,700 each year.

If I kept up the same pace every week, my Blendle habit would come out to a little over $1,700 each year.

Sure, $1,700 sounds expensive, but how does it compare to directly subscribing to the publications? If I subscribed to the seven publications I used on Blendle, I would have saved a little over $1,200 during the course of the year.

This doesn’t mean Blendle is a poor product. It’s just not meant for me. If you’re a casual reader, it’s the perfect platform. Choose when you want to read an article, and it won’t be blocked behind a paywall. If you find yourself consistently reading from these publications every week or so, it may make more sense to just subscribe to them.

Blendle has the potential to be a win-win scenario for many. You can read a story for a few cents, and publishers actually make money from people who aren’t likely to pull the trigger on an annual subscription.

Steven Winkelman
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Steven writes about technology, social practice, and books. At Digital Trends, he focuses primarily on mobile and wearables…
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