Paid journalism startup Blendle launches in the U.S.

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Blendle, the Dutch journalism start-up developing an iTunes-style payment method for newspapers, magazines and websites, made its debut in the U.S. on Wednesday with a coterie of high-profile publishers in tow.

The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Financial Times and more than a dozen others have all made their content available to U.S. readers on Blendle's pay-per-story app, which offers refunds when users dislike articles they've purchased for as little as 9 cents a pop.

Co-founder Alexander Klöpping, who was profiled by POLITICO in January, has said he firmly believes that younger readers who've grown up paying for songs on iTunes and movies on Netflix will likewise be willing to pay for single articles if a platform like Blendle makes the experience fast and easy.

At the same time, publishers are eager to make more money directly from readers due to struggles they are facing in the advertising market. This is particularly true for legacy outlets that had derived most of their profits from print advertising before marketers began moving their dollars online and to technology players like Facebook and Google, where ad rates are cheaper.

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While publications like the Times, the Journal, The Economist and the FT have developed their own successful digital subscription models, they can stand to net some extra cash from Blendle users who aren't likely to shell out for the full bundle. (The publishers get a 70 percent cut of revenues.)

"We see this as a way to extend the reach of FT Weekend"—the paper's weekly supplement covering lifestyle, arts and culture— "while supporting our philosophy that quality journalism is worth paying for,” said Nancy Cutler, the FT's head of business development, in a prepared statement.

Other participating publishers in the U.S., like The Huffington Post and New York magazine, do not charge for web content, so any money they make off Blendle will be icing on the cake.

“While our digital revenue is largely driven by advertising, Blendle gives us the opportunity to dip our toe into micropayments and potentially increase the share of reader revenue in the mix,” said New York's business development chief, Camilla Cho.

Blendle launched in 2014 in the Netherlands and Germany and quickly locked down a combined €3 million investment from The New York Times Company and Axel Springer (which also is a joint owner of POLITICO's European edition). Klöpping, 29, says it has amassed 650,000 users in those markets, where major media brands like Der Spiegel, Die Zeit and De Volkskrant—as well as globally ambitious U.S. outlets like the Times and The Washington Post—have signed on.

“Now, we’re going to try to replicate that in the biggest media market in the world," he said in an announcement about the U.S. launch.

Still, Blendle's U.S. launch will be greeted with at least some skepticism. Rick Edmonds of Florida's Poynter Institute for Media Studies told POLITICO in January that “Europeans are more accustomed to paying higher prices for quality content,” while California-based digital media consultant Alan Mutter said that overall, “The biggest obstacle is that people don’t like to pay for content.”

Blendle is still in the process of searching for an editor to lead its U.S. effort. The company has 70 employees, 15 of whom are journalists who curate articles that generally cost between 19 and 39 cents for newspapers and between 9 and 49 cents for magazines.

In addition to the aforementioned publications, the other inaugural U.S. partners are: Time Inc., Foreign Affairs, Newsweek, Bloomberg Businessweek, Fast Company, Inc., Game Informer, Barrons, the New York Review of Books, World Politics Review, Mother Jones, The Atavist and Advertising Age.

The initial U.S. user base will be limited to 10,000, but "if things go well, we'll gradually let more people in," Klöpping told POLITICO.