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Credit: By Jess on Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.

"People want to read articles or want to follow specific journalists but aren't particularly interested in the newspaper that it comes from anymore."

That is the opinion of Alexander Klöpping, co-founder of Blendle, the Dutch news aggregator which enables users to pay for articles individually and offers them an instant refund if they decide the article was not worth their time or money.

The platform is the brainchild of journalist Marten Blankesteijn, who was frustrated that he could not share links to articles he had written for Dutch publications, the vast majority of which do not publish content online for free.

Instead, as is common in many other European countries, news outlets might operate a metered paywall model or publish editions only in PDF format on an iPad app.

Alternatively, a news outlet might have strictly separate editorial for print and online, such as De Volkskrant does, where stories which appear in print never make it online.

"In Holland there's millions of people who still fork out over 300 euros for their print newspaper, so [publishers] don't want to lose that, and I can totally imagine why you wouldn't want to put that online for free," said Klöpping.

"The problem is not that people don't want to pay for [journalism], the problem is that it's too hard right now, to have a decent micropayment system where it's very easy to pay for articles."

One of the things we wanted to solve is just make it really easy to pay for journalismAlexander Klöpping, Blendle
"One of the things we wanted to solve is just make it really easy to pay for journalism – one account, one wallet and all the newspapers and magazines that you could wish for in one application. "

Though Klöpping admits that publishers in the Netherlands, who were understandably concerned about losing subscriptions, took some convincing that Blendle was a viable idea, the platform now incorporates every major newspaper and magazine in the country, as well as four Belgian publications and one English-speaking one, The Economist.

Blendle has seen rapid growth since its launch in April 2014, amassing more than 100,000 users.

And although the platform has attracted people of all ages, from those users who have connected their account to Facebook (around half overall) Klöpping said that around two-thirds are aged under 40.

This demographic is often difficult for traditional print publications in the Netherlands to engage with, Klöpping said, where the average newspaper reader is in Holland is "in their 50s".

"The fact that that the group we have [data on] is so young is very important to these publishers, and also for us," he said.

"It's evidence that it's a new group that just currently doesn't pay for journalism, and most of them for the very first time in their lives pay for journalism now because it's available on Blendle."

The audience base is mainly Dutch, which is unsurprising given that "99 per cent" of what Blendle offers is from Dutch publications, but Klöpping and Blankesteijn have plans to launch another platform elsewhere in Europe early next year.

Screengrab from Blendle.nl

For Klöpping, Blendle offers an alternative to the metered paywall model operated by news outlets such as The New York Times.

Although he admits the model "kind of works" for the English-language market, it is unsuitable for European publication outlets which do not have as wide a reach.

"For us it's a weird model, the fact that you get a little bit for free and you're used to getting it for free, and then they give you that paywall and that amount of money is often pretty big, and you're suddenly affiliated with this newspaper when you might just want to read a couple of articles because a friend has shared them on Facebook."

The benefit of Blendle, said Klöpping, is that users start paying for content right away, but in small amounts.

Publishers are free to set the cost of their articles, generally between €0.10 to €0.30 (£0.08 to £0.24) for newspaper articles and €0.20 to €0.79 (£0.16 to £0.63) for magazines articles, which tend to be longer.

New users get €2.50 (£2) for free when they sign-up, and from then on can top up their account in the same way they would a pre-paid mobile phone.

However, readers will never pay more than what an edition costs to buy in its entirety, no matter how many articles they read over the course of a month.

"It's more of a gradual way for people to get attached to a specific brand and it's more of a logical way, we think, to pay for journalism," said Klopping.

Before the official launch Klöpping compared the concept of Blendle to iTunes, where users can pay for individual songs if they do not wish to buy a whole album.

We want you to click on other articles. So basically we try to lower the barrier as much as possibleAlexander Klöpping, Blendle
However, as Klöpping points out: "If we'd just copied that model it wouldn't have worked. There's a lot of stuff on Blendle that I think makes the model applicable to journalism instead of music."

One way Blendle differs from iTunes is its 'money-back guarantee' whereby users can get an instant refund on any article they have purchased within 24 hours – a system designed to avoid what Klopping called "click angst".

"The fact that you click an article and automatically pay might mean that you will be more hesitant to click, and we don't want that," he said.

"We want you to click on other articles. So basically we try to lower the barrier as much as possible."

According to Klöpping, these refund requests amount to just three per cent of total articles read on Blendle and the team can temporarily block anyone deemed to be "freeloading".

Despite the initial hesitancy of Dutch publishers to get on board with Blendle, Klöpping said that publishers are pleased to be attracting a new, younger audience through the platform.

The ultimate goal for he and Blankesteijn, he said, is to allow people to "pay for all pieces of quality journalism with one click."

"We are both journalists and we want to create a business model for journalism that works. "

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