Since February the Dutch have access to a unique news service. Via “eLinea” they get centralised access to different parts and pieces of various news titles – including content that is behind a paywall. Important Dutch publishers are very willing to participate. Will eLinea also be able persuade the international media industry and launch an English version in October?
“With eLinea you can subscribe to the article channels of your favourite writers, editorial teams, columnists and cartoonists. You can then read the articles on those channels in optimal comfort — wherever, whenever and on whichever device you want! The articles remain accessible in your personal archive. Your subscription level is entirely up to you: add as many channels as you want. You can easily increase or decrease your subscription level each month.” This is how the English blogsite of eLinea explains the benefits to its users.
Different from flipboard and rss readers, eLinea lets subscribers mix paid and unpaid content. For instance combining one’s favorite cartoonist of a popular newsmagazine with particular news sections of various national newspapers, columns etc.. All these subscriptions are compiled into one digital document that can be downloaded or read online via your iphone, tablet, or any other device. Well-known Dutch magazines and newspapers such as NRC Handelsblad, Elsevier, Opzij, Dagblad De Pers and Vrij Nederland participate in eLinea.
So, basically eLinea is a content aggregator that offers publishers an additional distribution channel via which they can earn an extra income with already existing content. The publishers set the prices of their article channels. Usually these are between 0,10 euro and 5,99 euro per month. Publishers receive 70% of the subscription, eLinea gets the remaining 30%. The service was launched 24-02-2011.
ELinea is a service of the eReaders Group. This is a young, independent enterprise that is exclusively oriented towards the digital reading market. Besides eLinea it also runs eReaders.nl, a Dutch website that focuses on ereaders, ebooks, epapers en emagazines.
Michel Suijkerbuijk is one of the two owners of the eReaders Groep. He operates from his own investing company DUROMAC through which he wishes to help start projects that benefit environment, society and economy. In eLinea this perspective is presented in the heavy emphasis of e-reading as an alternative to the CO2 footprint of publishing houses. The other owner is Wiebe de Jager, director of Eburon (academic book publishing house) and another fan of e-reading.
Observing the need of the publishing industry for a new business model and the success of iTunes, they figured that a news content aggretator would be right on the mark. “People are willing to pay there (red.: iTunes) for music, despite the similar offer that is available for free”, Suijkerbuijk explains in NuZakelijk. He adds that readers are willing to pay, if it concerns quality content, the platform is very user friendly and if the paying process is very easy.
The owners hold high expectations in terms of estimations and expanding internationally. In a Dutch news article and on their own blogsite they give the following figures:
- Growing from 50 to 100 article channels by the end of 2011
- Dutch market within 2-3 years a net revenue of 2 million per year. In 2012 they hope to reach the point of break-even. Much will depend of the number of paying readers and the average amount they will spend per month. The initial starting costs have been low, as in 750.000 euro.
- More than 1 million readers before 2015
They are very clear and confident about their international ambitions. Co-owner Suijkerbuijk remarks “We are also rolling out eLinea internationally. Already before this summer we expect to enter the Flamish market. We are also busy preparing the launch of two English eLinea platforms, one for the British market and one for the European market.” The public launch of eLinea.com (service in English) is scheduled for 1 October 2011.
In terms of readership, the results are far from impressive: 150 paying accounts versus 1000 free accounts. But – as Michel Suijkerbuijk assured me yesterday on the phone – this does not worry the owners. So far they have focused on preparing the company for the future, not on marketing the service. Also the next few months will be spent on improving the user experience (for instance implementing a browser-based HTML5 read modus and web2.0 functionalities), mobile upgrades and the further expansion of news channels. A big marketing campaign is scheduled to take place after the summer. This, Suijkerbuijk expects, will lead to much greater readership. Possibly this will also be the time they will start experimenting with an advertisement model.
Interestingly, eLinea considers abandoning the subscription model. “We know that people do not always want to subscribe to article channels. They want to determine themselves what they read and when. We started with a subscription model but in time it could be a good idea to sell separate articles.” Suijkerbuijk told me. In other words, it could well be that eLinea will turn into an article-based platform fuelled by all kinds of publishers. To this end they have submitted a funding proposal at the Stimuleringsfonds voor de Pers.
So far, the online buzz on eLinea is positive. Reviewers are charmed by the concept of a personalised digital newspaper – you don’t have to buy the whole paper while you are only interested in one section – and the advantages of digital reading, such as the possibility of saving articles, submitting of comments or recommendations. The reviewers are however not without criticism. They especially wonder if it is unique enough in comparison with what is already available. This is a tricky question as so much of the published information is retrievable online for free. Some also report that a channel subscription sometimes costs as much as a complete subscription, disrupting one of the advantages of eLinea (you don’t pay for what you don’t read). Another difficulty is that readers also need be very much informed about the existing offer of all newstitle. How else can you make an informative selection?
Other critical notes concern the content (needs to be much broader), the lack of images and web2.0 functionalities, and the usability especially with mobile devices. But as noted above, eLinea is listening and working on many of these issues.
ELinea claims to have 100 article channels in the Dutch version by the end of the summer. This includes several Belgian publishers with Dutch content. “The French part of Belgium and the United Kingdom are however much harder to enter”, Suijkerbuijk remarks. Impressive titles such as the Wallstreet Journal and Spectator seem interested but it is too early to say if they will participate.
Besides all technical and legal challenges, it must be difficult for a Dutch start-up to persuade renowned international news organisations. It is hard to imagine how such a small player from the Netherlands can become the iTunes of the news industry. (But what if!!) From that regard a more gradual and modest approach – concentrating on popular organisations in neighbouring countries, growing a critical mass of users and only then approaching the bigger fishes – could prove to be a wise strategy. But hey, what do I know? What do you think? Will the media industry and readers outside the Netherlands go for it?
Publishers who are interested in issuing their digital content through eLinea are invited to participate in the international pilot scheme. Check http://www.elinea.com/blog/ for more information.
Besides the English blogsite you can also find a version in French: http://elinea.appepaper.com/
All quotes were translated in English by the author of this post. Please let me know if you have found any flaws!
English sources: eLinea blog, eMedia Showcase, and ‘European Ventures Seek to Fill a Void in World News’, International Herald Tribune 09-05-2011
You can find more information in Dutch: blog eLinea, Rethinkingmedia, DeNieuweReporter, Frankwatching, MuseumFuture, Nieuwslab, Bright, Emerce, NuZakelijk (recommended), presentatie ereadingevent (pdf) en twitter via @elineanl and @wdejager.