Blendle adds apps for its pay-per-story news service in the US

News delivery startup Blendle, which is applying a marketplace model to journalism offering pay-per-article reads from a range of different publishers, has launched iOS and Android apps in the US, expanding how US users get to consume their chosen content.

While it started with a website it already had apps in Europe but says the US app is a redesign of those earlier apps — with a focus on speed (such as faster article load times) and making the discovery of stories much easier, rather than just showing trending stories.

Blendle arrived in the U.S. back in March, following earlier launches in two European markets: its native Netherlands and Germany (European publisher giant Axel Springer is among its investors). The startup raised a $3.8 million Series A in October 2014 for its mission to save quality journalism via the power of micropayments.

The service remains in private beta at this point but Blendle is briefly opening up (for 48 hours) for new sign-ups via its iOS app to coincide with the launch. Newbies get $2.50 to spend on articles to get them going, after which they’ll need to top up their account so they can consume more quality content.

Per article costs vary but can be as low as $0.09 or as much as $0.59, depending on the type of content (news story, magazine feature etc). Blendle follows an App Store model offering publishers a 70:30 revenue split, with the latter keeping the lion’s share.

Other features added with the U.S. apps is an improved timeline for trending stories, and digital replicas of around 300 print titles — including US publications such as the NYT, WSJ and The Economist, along with publications from Blendle’s European markets. There’s also an optional push notification to receive intel on popular stories on the platform.

Content is curated for individual users based on publication and topic preferences they are asked specify on sign up. It can also be personalized based on what their friends are reading via a Facebook sign up option. The apps also include the ability to save articles to a reading list for later reading.

Blendle’s flagship consumer feature remains a refund option, where readers can ask for their money back if they’re not happy with the quality of the article they bought. While that may make publishers nervous it’s also likely to be essential to give users the confidence to click.

(As of June last year general average refund rates on the platform were around 5 per cent, although rates were said to vary depending on the type of media. It now says the current refund rate, platform-wide, is just below ten per cent, adding that in the U.S. “it’s a bit lower” — although you’d expect that since it’s a more recent market and refund rates started lower in Europe too.)

So how is the U.S. launch going? Blendle’s not saying much at this nascent stage, but claims it’s “much better” than expected. And when will it be opening up to all comers? In short, not yet — beyond the brief current window of opportunity.

“We’re gonna close the beta again, and we’ve not yet decided when to open Blendle to everyone. It’s important for us to make sure we’re ready for the big crowds, when we do, so we’re taking the time needed to improve the product together with the beta community,” adds the spokesman.