Mark and Mary Devlin are media entrepreneurs. After studying engineering in Scotland, they moved to Japan in 1989. In 1993 they started handing out a four-page classified ads sheet on Tokyo streets. Over 14 years that sheet grew into Metropolis, Japan’s No 1 English Magazine. In 2000 they founded japantoday.com, the No. 1 news and discussion site about Japan in English. In 2007 Mark & Mary sold their businesses and moved to the United States where they opened Kroaky’s, a private karaoke room business. In 2014 they launched Newslines, an innovative news timeline site, which was followed by NewsBlocks, a blockchain-based marketplace for news data. In June 2020 they launched The Majority to fight back against Nationalism in Scotland. They have two children and live in Glasgow.
The Majority launches the #ResignSturgeon campaign, which includes billboards in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, as well as a plane towing a #ResignSturgeon banner over Hoyrood and Glasgow city centre.. The Majority, Scotland Matters and UK Union Voice crowdfunded more than £7,000 towards the cost of the campaign. Mark Devlin:
We represent the silent majority of people in Scotland, who are angry and frustrated by Nicola Sturgeon’s shenanigans bringing international shame on Scotland. The Scottish public deserve a Parliament and First Minister above reproach and want the Scottish Government to focus on health, education, jobs and the pandemic. Instead we have a First Minister misleading parliament, breaking the ministerial code and withholding information from an inquiry into her government’s unlawful, unfair and biased actions against Alex Salmond, all while totally neglecting her day job.
NewsBlocks is a finalist in the Great British Entrepreneur Challenge. The contest, run by Andy Yates and promoted by The Daily Mail, offers £50,000 investment and mentoring as a prize, and aims to find:
great start-ups and early-stage firms and to find passionate entrepreneurs who want to disrupt and change their market for the better, and change their lives at the same time.
Mark meets with Andy, who is a former journalist, in London to talk about NewsBlocks. Mark:
In the end we didn’t win, but it was great to meet with Andy, and hear his enthusiasm for helping innovative project. We look forward to keeping him updated as we build NewsBlocks in the future.
Mark participates in a panel on news innovation at the World News Media Congress in Glasgow. The other participants included Frédéric Sitterlé, Director of Development at Groupe Challenges, which is creating news products for use in Renault cars, Kourtney Bitterly, R&D Lead at the New York Times, who talked about the company’s research into Smart Speakers, and Robyn Spector, Director of Corporate Strategy and Development at the Associated Press (AP), who talked about giving AI tools to journalists.
Mark talks about using blockchain to price news data:
At the moment, there’s so much discussion about subscription models, and how much can we get people to pay for news. But nobody really knows the real cost of a piece of news.
And the challenges facing startups:
It seems companies really want to pick the winner. News organisations would rather wait and see if something succeeds. But how can something succeed if they haven’t been funded from beginning?
Mark presents NewsBlocks at News Rewired, a conference at Thomson Reuters HQ in London, that promotes trends in journalism technology. Mark discusses the use of blockchain technology to create a verified, permanent and priced “store of news value” for all the world’s news.
The Social News Company Ltd. launches NewsBlocks, a blockchain platform for building next-generation news applications, such as trusted news feeds, fact-checking systems and fake news detectors. NewsBlocks starts from the insight that the traditional news article — a form of news designed to be printed on paper and thrown away each day — is not well suited to the digital age of mobile, instant data. The project’s primary goal is to convert all the world’s news articles into data, and store it permanently on a tamper-proof, censorship-resistant blockchain, where it can be searched, sorted, filtered and organised by anyone in new ways to create trusted news applications. Because each piece of data also has a price, NewsBlocks also creates the first global marketplace for news data.
Mark Devlin, CEO:
Once news is data, it can — for the first time — be verified, stored and priced so that anyone can use it to create the next-generation of news products and services.
Our aim is to summarise all of the world’s news – past to present. We distribute our news through partners, such as social media fan pages and share advertising revenues with the page owners. People can sign up to be the next set of contributors. They tell us what they are interested in and we help them produce a timeline along the way. Anyone can come in for free and read the timeline or edit it…Facebook used to do a lot of news but now its model has changed where do people go for unbiased news? People can get a left-wing view in the Guardian and a right-wing view if they read the Telegraph but where is the unbiased reference point?
Newslines is chosen as one of two winners to enter Dell’s Entrepreneurial Growth Programme for Scottish Scale Ups Newslines and Ibis Vision, a company that has a new way to detect glaucoma, receive technology, training, mentorship and access to Dell events. Newslines CEO, Mark Devlin:
After many years overseas running successful media businesses, we recently came back to settle in Scotland. We know that we can unlock the potential in the new media landscape but need to tap into skills and networks within Scotland and beyond. Dell’s brand and scope gives us that additional ‘clout’ that we can’t achieve as a small scale-up.
Dell Scotland site lead, Mark White:
When we launched this programme we were confident that the Scottish scale-up environment was thriving. We were still pleasantly surprised at the quality and breadth of the entries, a testament to the future of Scottish industry. IbisVision and Newslines are very different companies but both are working in areas that are ready for disruption. We knew when we met with them that we could partner with them to help them thrive and I’m looking forward to working with them through the next year on our DellScotIgnite journey.
GPlus Media, the company that publishes Japan Today, is sold to Fuji TV-Lab, a subsidiary of Fuji Media Holdings Inc. The sales also includes GPlus’ other internet properties, including GaijinPot and Real Estate Japan. Fuji TV-Lab:
The Japanese government has set an annual target of 20 million foreign visitors to Japan in 2020 for the Tokyo Olympic/Paralympics Games and Fuji Media Holdings expects this will increase the demand for media targeting foreign residents and visitors to Japan at an accelerated pace. In the context of this trend, Fuji Media Holdings understands that there is a favorable opportunity to create several inbound/outbound businesses and thus welcomes GPlus Media and REJ into the group to strengthen its ability to reach the foreign community in Japan.
Newslines launches its revenue-share system. The system splits 50% of ad revenues on user-generated pages with the writers, editors who contributed to the site, and to those who invite other users to patrticipate. Writers receive 50-70% of revenues, editors receive 25-30% and networkers receive around 5%. It is the world’s first system to allow for payments for editing other contributors’ posts. Mark:
We hate that the people behind many large sites, and their investors, get rich off of the free work of their contributors. It’s not just that we think people should be paid for their work, we feel strongly that contributors who help build a business should get a share in the growth of the business too. We see our contributors as investors in growth. Just like an investor who has the potential to have a high return as a company grows, if you put an equivalent amount of work into building your portfolio of content, you can share in the rewards.
The $1-per-post program finishes. Since May, 2014, Newslines writers added over 26,000 posts and received over $26,000 in rewards. The first part of Newslines’ revenue-share system — a system that allows qualified writers to become editors and to be paid for their edits — has been completed. The second stage of the system — which calculates the revenue share amounts for each post – is currently being programmed and is due for official release by the end of January.
As a way to better understand the conflicting stories around the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Mark starts 2012 Benghazi Attack Timeline. The page grows rapidly into the most comprehensive timeline of the attacks and moves up Google’s search engine results until it is the second link.
Mark is interviewed about WeCheck. describing how the idea came to him when he annotated an editorial by Nicolas Kristof in the New York Times. The site is an online version of that manual process, allowing users to tag speeches and articles for common logical fallacies, and so dig deeper into the truth of political statements.
At first I wasn’t thinking ‘fact checking,’ I just wanted to find out whether it was true or not…I have good faith in the people. There’s enough people out there that are out to find the truth than for the political aspect.
Lloyd reneges on the final payment for Metropolis. The Devlins find out that Lloyd and his wife Kumiko have cheated them out of collateral property by secretly remortgaging the property to Shinsei Bank, just two weeks after he buys the magazine from them. Lloyd refuses to make any settlement and, over the next three years, engages in multiple frauds to hide his assets. The Devlins pursue civil and criminal actions.
The Devlins start Kroaky’s, a private room karaoke club. Private karaoke rooms, or “karaoke box” are a popular concept in Asia and there are a handful of places in America’s larger cities. Kroaky’s is the only such club in a small city. The Sarasota store is to be a model for a franchise business that will take the private room karaoke concept across the U.S. After a few months a public lounge is added.
After publishing over 700 issues, the Devlins sell Metropolis to Lloyd, a New Zealand and Australian dual national, based in Japan. Over 14 years the magazine has grown to over 80 full-color pages every week made by a team of 35 staff from all over the world. The magazine has annual sales of ¥360 million and 20% profit, from hundreds of display and commercial classified advertisers and is, by far, Japan’s No 1 English magazine. A brief history of Metropolis is here.
In an interview titled Big in Japan, with the Scottish newspaper Business a.m. Mark & Mary talk about the renaming of Tokyo Classified to Metropolis, how the dot.com bust affected Japan Today and their relationship with Scotland. Mark:
I look up Scottish property websites about once every two weeks and I have a little dream of buying something there…But this place [Tokyo] has a real energy. The last time I returned to Tokyo after a holiday in Scotland I was so happy to be back. Even in that short time, Tokyo had changed. I took a walk down the street and it seemed like new buildings had gone up. Scotland’s a great place but there’s a real energy here. And we’ve still got a bit of work to do.
Japan Today is launched as a rival to Japan’s English language newspapers. Over the next year the site will become the most popular news site about Japan in the world, regularly hovering around the top 5000 sites in the world. Japan Today is the first news site in the world to have reader comments directly under the news articles. Before then the readers had always been forced into the forum area of the site.
From 1994 Tokyo Classified readers are able to place ads using an online BBS system. As the Internet grows in popularity Mark & Mary start Crisscross Internet, one of the first Internet Providers in Japan. Crisscross’s “Instant Internet” allows anyone to access the Internet by calling a premium-rate telephone number from their modem for an per-minute fee of ¥20 (approx $0.2). The business grows rapidly and gains over 5000 customers.
After months of planning the first issue of Tokyo Classified is published. Mark designs and lays out the magazine while Mary sells the ads. Classified ads are collected from various noticeboards throughout Tokyo and through a Macintosh-based voicemail system linked to a premium-rate telephone line. The four-page sheet is handed out in about 15 locations where foreigners hang out by a “target team”. Mary:
With little job opportunity in Scotland, Mark goes to Japan and initially works as an English teacher and an editor of financial reports before working as a Network Administrator for Jardine Fleming Securities.
After working while at University for Ford as a management trainee, Mary joins Andersen Consulting, where she is a Strategy Consultant. On arriving in Tokyo in 1990 she works as an IT Consultant for Union Bank of Switzerland.