‘Spotify for news’ startup Inkl lands partnership with The Wall Street Journal as media disruption continues


Inkl founder Gautam Mishra. Source: Supplied.

Australian “Spotify for news” startup Inkl has landed a long-pursued partnership with massive US-based publications The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s, which will see content from both publications offered on the Inkl platform.

The partnership also implements one of Inkl’s next-stage goals for its platform to become a “universal account” for customers to use to login to news websites, with users now able to use their Inkl credentials to login to the WSJ’s website.

Inkl was founded at the start of 2014 by former director of strategy at Fairfax Media Gautam Mishra, as a way to solve some of the key issues prevalent in the media industry as publishers of all sizes scratch their head on how to effectively monetise content.

At its launch, Inkl was offering content from major news publications including The GuardianThe Sydney Morning Herald, the South China Morning PostLos Angeles TimesChicago Tribune, the Washington Post. The list has since grown considerably.

Inkl targets publishers with paywalls or subscription models, getting them on board as partners and offering their articles to users on a cost-per basis, usually around 5-10c an article. The goal is to provide high-quality and relevant content to users based on their location, which is done through algorithms. The company was bootstrapped initially, and also took on an undisclosed amount of seed funding early on in its journey.

Speaking to StartupSmart, Mishra said while the WSJ was at the top of his list of desired publishers since the early days of the startup, the two companies only started discussions about three months ago with some time needed to work out the right structure for the deal.

The deal has evolved into being one of Inkl’s first use cases of its universal login function, which Mishra hopes will lead to less friction for users on the news marketplace.

“If users are consuming news from different publishers with 20 different logins, that creates friction, and if there’s too much friction people won’t use it,” he says.

“The end vision for Inkl is a universal account that works on the Inkl product but also on other publishers. Letting users link their account with the WSJ is enormous — they might be on social media or the WSJ app, and they can just click on that article and read it all with their Inkl account.”

It’s this approach that Mishra hopes to implement with all the publishers Inkl partners with from now on. Publishers everywhere are slowly realising the need to charge for news, he says, and his startup can offer a solution.

Inkl also provides a customisable paywall and subscription service for previously free news websites that want to implement those features.

Strong international growth through word-of-mouth

The new partnerships come as Inkl continues to enjoy rapid international growth among its user base. According to Mishra, that growth is mostly through word-of-mouth.

“We’re in 199 countries now, and we’re not doing anything to drive that. I couldn’t name 199 countries if you asked me,” he laughs.

“It’s all basically word-of-mouth but it’s quite bizarre. How on earth did someone in the Isle of Man find out about Inkl?”

The company is looking to ramp up its international marketing in 2018, drawing on the universality of its the product fit; the “basic need” for news is exactly the same across all continents. However, the team is constantly refining and assessing different international demographics’ interests in topics, ensuring no scenarios where a New Zealand Inkl customer is served Canadian-focused news, for example.

Media space tight for startups

The popularity of the media and publishing space as an opportunity for new ventures pales in comparison to areas such as fintech. For Mishra, it’s not so much a case of the space being overlooked. Rather, it’s “very difficult”sector to make inroads.

“First of all, when we entered we had a contrarian view on the industry — that the ‘customers first, revenue later’ business model of traditional media was ultimately flawed. It wasn’t an easy call to make compared to the rest of the industry,” he says.

“The other thing is that the media space overall is so disrupted that investors take one look at a startup there and think they could just put their money in fintech or crypto or something else.”

“I think it’s going to be very difficult for a startup to come through the traditional publishing space. Right now a lot are just doing what everyone else is and hoping for a different outcome.”

But the media entrepreneur believes there is a light for hopeful founders at the end of the tunnel. As more publishers find clarity around paid models, more avenues may open up for disruption in the payments and distribution spaces for digital media, he says.

Looking forward, Inkl has a few more big-name partnerships still to come, but is keeping them under wraps for the time being. Right now, the company is focused on building some key metrics in its user base, deviating from usual top-line statistics to put a focus on KPIs it knows represents the success of the platform.

“The number one most important thing for us is the number of monthly transactions users make, which is currently at an average of 40. If users aren’t on the marketplace and making transactions, there’s no value for us or our publishers,” he says.

“The other metric is conversion rate — the number of people who have downloaded Inkl and then put in their credit card and made purchases. That’s at 16% now, compared to an industry average of about 1-2%.”

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