Blendle pivoted away from micropayments. Did it miss the pivot to aggregators?

Poynter's 20 resources on navigating change in your media career

As we wrote about in this week’s Pugpig Media Bulletin, there was quite a bit of chatter about Blendle shutting down its micropayment service in journalism circles. Digging a little deeper, my team member James and I looked at both the micropayments model and also why Blendle didn’t live up to the hype that met it when it expanded from its base in the Netherlands in the middle of the last decade.

The central focus has been on what this means for micropayments, and it definitely raises questions about the place that micropayments play in the subscription stack. As my colleague James pointed out in the piece, micropayments increase conversion challenges because you constantly have to convince people to pay. And I’ve seen a number of different models to reduce this friction, but they all require network effects that no micropayment system has ever been able to achieve. Meaning, a micropayment provider needs to reach a scale so that they make sense for users. Or a publisher might add micropayments for those potential subscribers who just want to read a single article - a day pass for those loosely connected audiences. And we are seeing that with the new generation of dynamic paywall systems.

But more than the issue around micropayment, looking at Blendle, it seemed that they focused too much on the payment system and missed the pivot to aggregators, which they could have made with the high-profile early backers they had. Blende missed a pivot that could have made them a much bigger player, especially for mobile aggregators like News Break. I have to wonder if all of the attention that they received for micropayments blinded them to an opportunity to the shift in user behaviour and the market. Instead, they were acquired by Cafeyn - an ‘information streaming’ service aka an aggregator.

Before the pandemic, events were a huge revenue driver for publishers, especially financial newspapers like the FT or B2B businesses. But COVID really dented that business, which is an understatement. While publishers are looking to events as an important source of revenue, there are other pressures or motivations driving publishers, and FIPP reviews how environmental imperatives are also being taken into consideration. It will be a difficult balance between the drive for face-to-face networking, costs and environmental imperatives.

I am always on the lookout for great resources, and the Washington Post has shared its guide for optimising web performance, including SEO.

This week’s development in AI and media

I do feel a bit like a broken record about all of these AI stories, but it is good to see this guidance from AP about how to describe generative AI systems. Language matters, and there has been laziness in describing what large language models are doing.

And we have the latest installment in what will be an important front in the battle between AI companies and publishers. The New York Times is considering suing OpenAI. It might well be a legal gambit by the Times to improve their negotiating position with OpenAI, the makers of ChatGPT, but we will see a lot more of this.

As Google makes progress on the technology that many publishers fear, which is a system in which chat services mean that users do not have to come to publishers’ websites to get the information that they need. This will challenge publishers to find a new way to monetise their content, and this is why publishers are putting renewed emphasis on building direct relationships with their audience. These developments will put more distance between ad-based volume publishers and reader-revenue value publishers.

As someone who has been fortunate enough to navigate many changes in media, this is a good list of how to navigate changes in your media career. It is a good resource.

The stories have been rolling out about how engagement has collapsed on Meta’s Threads in a short time after its introduction. Can Zuck’s team pivot the product fast enough to re-engage lost users? (I am re-engaging because it is still a nicely quiet social media space.)

Sigh. This week’s drama at Twitter X is that Musk is throttling links to the New York Times, Reuters, Substack and Facebook. I guess this is the cage fight with Zuck. Social media is really becoming a soap opera.

A very deep dive into Community Notes, a new Twitter feature. This looks at how the algorithms work that surface the notes.