The web's reading platform.

The New Readability

Months ago on the Arc90 blog, we talked about why we built Readability. In that post. we shared some insights into some of the ideas that guided our thinking as we moved the platform forward.

Since then, it’s been an interesting time for reading on the web and publishing in general. We’ve seen important conversations bubble up that not only address the reading experience but also the quality and nature of web content itself. All the while, publishers are experimenting with new ways to extract value.

Enjoy Reading

Today, Readability graduates from basic web reading tool to a full-blown reading platform.

We’re introducing a whole slew of new features to make reading on the web even better. Readability now works on mobile phones and tablets and we now provide the ability to save a web article for reading later. You can even share your reading list so that others can follow what you’re reading.

We’ve put a lot of work into the existing free add-on as well. You can change your appearance settings at any time (not just on install) and share a Readability-enhanced link via Facebook, Twitter and email.

Support Writing

Beyond reading features, we wanted to leverage the platform to support the writers and publishers people enjoy on the web today. In other words, we wanted to tie a mechanism that supports publishers to the act of reading. It’s easier done than said. As we embarked on this new path, a voice rang from across the Atlantic that beautifully echoed our motivation and sentiment.

John Lanchester in the London Review of Books:

I feel equally certain in saying that what the print media need[…]is a new payment mechanism for online reading, which lets you read anything you like, wherever it is published, and then charges you on an aggregated basis, either monthly or yearly or whatever[…]

I also want to feel free to read anything else which catches my eye, whenever I feel like it – I just don’t want to have to think about paying every time I click on the article to read it. I want a monthly or yearly charge, taken off my credit card without my having to think about it.

We’ve never met John but we think his plea is dead-on. That’s exactly where we’re taking Readability—

We’re turning Readability into a monthly subscription service with a unique twist: the great majority of your fees (70%) will go directly to the writers and publishers you enjoy. We’re tethering a small, passive transaction to the reading decisions you make through the platform. You can even publicly share the top domains you’re enjoying through Readability. It’s a new type of badge: “I support these writers & publishers.”

The minimum subscription fee for Readability is $5.00 a month. If you can afford to pay more, we encourage you to do so. The more you pay, the more you’re supporting publishing on the web.

And “on the web” is what Readability is all about. It’s the unencumbered web without speed bumps or toll booths to slow you down. For writers and publishers, there is no approval process, no gatekeepers and no hardware dependencies. It’s the web with a quality reading experience bolted on.

We’re even providing publishers and developers with a suite of tools to enhance the reading experience for their readers.

We recognize that on the web, everyone is a publisher. We’ve even created a handy little embed button that brings the Readability experience right to your readers.

A Match Made in Reading Heaven

Part of the original inspiration for Readability is the exceptional iOS reading application Instapaper. Today, we couldn’t be more excited to announce a our partnership with Instapaper. Subscribers of Readability that own iPhones or iPads can download Readability for iOS, powered by Instapaper.

As of this writing, the app hasn’t been approved on iTunes, but look out for it in the coming days. We’ve got other big announcements surrounding the Instapaper-Readability partnership in the near future. Stay tuned.

Quality Content is Expensive

The core motivator behind the new Readability is pretty straight-forward: good, quality content is worth paying for and we shouldn’t have to rely on any particular platform or device to do so. Readability represents an ambitious attempt to reconcile the freedom and speed of the web with the need to pay for content that is worth paying for.

We couldn’t be more excited about the new Readability. We’ve got so much more to announce in the coming days and weeks. You can stay in the loop by following @readability on Twitter or checking back here on the Readability blog.

Happy reading!

Rich Ziade is a founding partner and CEO of Readability. You can reach Rich at rich@readability.com or follow him on Twitter.

70 Responses »

  1. Great news. It’s an interesting take on the pay model and it’s unique in that it actually makes sense.

  2. The link to the readability site has a typo in it and is broken.

    Been a huge fan of the bookmarklet and love this idea.

  3. I’ve noticed that http://readability.com (without the www) doesn’t work for me, just http://www.readability.com. Might be because DNS hasn’t propagated here…?

  4. Any plans for a Kindle service (e.g. converting a batch of articles to .mobi a’la Instapaper)?

  5. I know I’m missing something significant here, but why would I ever want to share my reading list so that others can follow what I’m reading? Moreover, why would I want to pay $60/year for that dubious privilege? Seriously. I’d like to understand how this would be useful or attractive to someone.

    I’ve enjoyed very much using Readability over the past few months. It’s been a valuable and useful tool. But, if in order to use it and what you seem to say are a raft of exciting new features, it’ll end up costing me $5.00/month, then we’ll have to part company.

    Thanks very much.

    – Christopher Boyer

    Christopher Boyer
    5013 Mozart Drive, El Sobrante, California 94803-2760
    510.488.3965 – christopher@cjboyer.com – 510.263.6546 (fax)

  6. OH. MY. GOD. Fantastic news!

    I’m curious though; does this affect Safari’s “Reader” feature in anyway whatsoever?

  7. I see the future of reading!

  8. I’m using the readability bookmarklet for quite a long time now and I like what you’re up to right now.

    But what really is a drawback for now: With the new bookmarklet the URL of the original article is altered and with that the favicon changes as well. So if I have open 2 or more articles I wanted to read using readability, they are not as easy to identfy, as they all have the same favicon. In addition, if I have to restart my browser, and all tabs are restored, those articles are not restored as the original article, but as the readability version.

    Until now readability only was a layer on top of the original article and website, now it’s a separate platform, which moves away from the original article’s website. In other words: It’s a second Instapaper, which I really like and use on a day-to-day basis, but I also liked readability for its simplicity.

    And still, more payment options would be nice. Maybe that’s on your roadmap, but I wanted to stress that fact anyways. As I’m sitting in Germany, Amazon paments only allows me to pay with my credit card, and not through my (german) bank account. Paypal of course would be an option, maybe there’s something else, so it wouldn’t always be the usual suspects.

    Thanks for now.

  9. My other question, is despite the difference of being paid vs free, how will the premium Readability service be different from Instapaper? I understand writers will be compensated and the text stripping is superior and customizable as well.

    My point is… why should I continue to use Instapaper once I have a premium account with Readability? I’m already sold by the way. I’ve already subscribed. I’m just wondering if Instapaper becomes redundant at this point. There’s Instapaper’s iOS app, but apparently that won’t be an issue once Readability.app comes out.

  10. Echoing HandyRandy’s comment above. I use & love both Readability and Instapaper. Now I’ll have to check separate read-later archives in 2 places? And pay $5/mo to two separate (both worthy) recipients? That seems inconvenient & confusing…

  11. Paul Neuhaus said:
    > With the new bookmarklet the URL of the original article is altered and with that the favicon changes as well. …
    > articles are not restored as the original article, but as the readability version.

    Woah, i didn’t know that! I’m really glad some good fairy whispered in my ear not to add the new bookmarklet.

    I have been using the Readability bookmarklet for a month (on Firefox) and couldn’t live without it. It doesn’t integrate well with two of my other must-haves: the FloatNotes and WiredMarker plugins but i’ve been dealing for now . If i was stuck with the above problems as well, it could make me have to (sadly) give it up.

    Readability is fantastic – please make it more seamless with the browser, not less!

  12. So you’re taking a little bookmarklet I used to hit that made a website all nice and plain for me … and you’re wrapping it up in ten layers of new features which you want $60 a year for.

    Er, no. Talking about completely missing what your core strengths were.

  13. I love readability and would be happy to contribute, especially if a portion is going to writers/authors, but….
    •I don’t use iOS and therefore the integration/partnership with Instapaper for mobile is of no use
    •I do use Android and bookmarklets don’t work with the stock browser
    If you are going to change the business model and the service and begin charging, it needs to be usable at launch across multiple platforms, not just iOS. Otherwise, those in my position are likely to move on since we receive none of the benefits.

  14. Wow, a lot of these commenters don’t seem to have actually read the post. Your $60 a year (a pittance, really, plenty of people spend this much on coffee monthly) goes to support the people producing the content. It provides a financial incentive to not try to prevent Readability from stripping ads, and lets them know you are focused on real meaty content. This is better for your favorite publications, from the NYT to Joe Blog, as they get paid and can keep working. It’s better for you, because they keep writing (as they are paid) and you don’t have to slog through user-hostile websites to get at it.

    If I understand Marco’s post on this (marco.org), Instapaper is going to integrate into this by syncing your reading lists. You can choose to use the Instapaper app or the Readability app (or the respective sites), and your reading list will be in sync. You can still use Instapaper on its own, or you can choose to give a little back to the developers and the writers by subscribing to this service.

    If you want to go back to the unsustainable “Everything on the Internet must be free” mode, go have fun reading comments on linkbait blogs powered by irritating ads and pageviews. You get what you pay for.

  15. @Mac Justice
    While I agree it seems some folks are missing the point or just can’t read, I don’t see an explanation anywhere describing what all the little differences are between Readability Premium and Instapaper besides the price vs being free.

    I like the idea of forging new business models and appreciate the customization of Readability. I also noticed they have a search feature while Instapaper does not. But it seems to lack folders, which Instapaper has. Does (or will) Readability have an export feature or custom email feature like Instapaper?

    Readability seems to do a much better job at naming saved articles, but requires you to archive before you can delete. Sharing seems easier on Readability, but is not yet integrated with many iOS apps like Instapaper.

    Which begs a very important question, will Readability take aggressive measures to integrate with iOS apps? I would suggest putting custom email address submissions like Instapaper has at the very top of the priority list to make up for this for the time being since *all* iOS apps have an email out feature. Otherwise this will be it’s downfall.

    So I really hope someone working at Readability comes forth and starts answering these comments or it’s going to look like you’re the kind of folks that ignore users. What can we expect in the future from you guys and what should we not expect?

  16. @handyrandy –

    You’re right – you can still meet your current needs with a free Readability as well as your existing user of Instapaper. The big – really big – difference is that Readability is about delivering a great service to you, the reader as well as delivering a model that writers, bloggers and publishers can support and get behind. The features we deliver to readers tells half the story.

    One of the big reasons Instapaper is so strongly aligning with what we’re doing is that both Instapaper and Readability believes in taking care of both readers and writers – on the web.

  17. @mrw –

    Readability launched with a mobile web interface that really works great on Android phones. It’s a rich experience that stores your articles for offline reading on Android.

    Unfortunately, bookmarklet installation on Android is something of a nightmare (in fact worse than iOS). We wish there were an easier way to make it easy to add articles via your phone.

    We are very much committed to delivering a great experience across platforms and devices and our plan is to do that on the web and with web technologies.

  18. @Richard Ziade

    I agree that the big accomplishment here is the business model etc. But most users aren’t going to want to split their workflow between two different services. If I still need to use Instapaper just because Readability can’t make a few adjustments to align itself with Instapaper’s functionality, then I’m going to go back to the more proven free service. I want to support writers, but I also want to be modestly rewarded something for it and that’s the genius of this. I think you’ll get a lot more users because there’s something “in it for them”. But the truth is, it’s going to end up failing if it can’t compete with Instapaper in terms of functionality.

    Perhaps it sounds selfish or unreasonable, but this is how people are. Then again, it sounds stupid of you to make a service almost as good as Instapaper, but not quite. If that’s the case, why bother? I am making lots of assumptions here on Readability’s part, but until someone comes out and explains it, that’s what people do. And you don’t want that. All it takes is a few minutes of your time to come out and actually answer the frequently asked questions. You’ll be surprised how much of a difference it will make. I bet you’ll get more subscribers immediately. But you can’t expect to achieve massive success when you’re launch is confusing to people.

  19. The Instapaper loyalists may be interested in Marco’s blog post, which shows a way to continue using Instapaper primarily but then to export your reads to Readabilitynif all you want to do with it is make sure the content producers get paid (which is brilliant, by the way, and I’m excited to see it get started) http://www.marco.org/3044068415

    I’m a newbie to the iPad and haven’t thrown in with Instapaper yet, so I think I will wait until the Readability app is live before I decide how best to read. But it sounds like there will be plenty of options.

  20. @HandyRandy

    Soon you’ll be able to use either service to support the model. Remember, Instapaper and Readability are partnering. If you’re more comfortable using the Instapaper suite, you’ll still have the option to support writers. If you like what Readability has to offer, you’ll have that option as well.

    It’s good to have options!

    (Side note: Readability is great for people with Android devices, for example. People with Androids will probably find Readability a far friendlier experience).

  21. I’m still trying to understand how that answers my questions though. I’ll try to make this easier. Please answer true or false to the statements below and hopefully, if you have time, comment on the false answers, if any:

    Readability is what it is in terms of functionality and there are no planned improvements.

    We should not expect a custom email address feature like Instapaper has so that it works with all nearly all iOS apps at the moment.

    We should not expect developer API’s so that in the future it will hopefully have the same level of integration with popular iOS apps.

    We should not expect some sort of TRUE syncing between Instapaper and Readability as a workaround for the time being until developers begin using (not yet promised) Readability API’s .

    We should not expect any sort of import feature so that I can use Instapaper’s export feature and import my old previous data into Readability.

    The only thing that we should expect is an iOS reader app and an Instapaper API so that Readability developers can offer an option to integrate our reading log into their financial model.


    P.S. It seems like you’re giving up right before the finish line here. There’s a lot of potential, but I don’t see it working out as is and it’s frustrating that the reasons are just minor little things that probably wouldn’t take much of your time to fix.

  22. I’m sure some folks are curious about the lack of folders as well. I don’t care for them, especially given Readability’s search, but there’s no reason you can’t let the readers know what to expect on that as well.

    Please don’t answer with the obvious. We know we can use Instapaper already. Everyone knows that. We want to know what the new guy in town has planned.

  23. One more thing. Why not offer a short free trial so that users can see how the “Read Later” feature works. Obviously no money ends up going to writers, but at least they don’t have to pay just to figure out it doesn’t have the functionality they were looking for.

  24. It would cool if readability could send content to a Kindle e-mail address to be read later.

  25. So far all I see is you’re “helping writers”. I’m sorry, but I already pay for content in a variety of ways, including direct subscriptions to sites I value. Other non-commercial content isn’t exactly hurting for revenue. I don’t see ads plastering Daringfireball.net, for example, or requests for donations on documentation sites or scientific articles. I don’t see arstechnica giving me a free premium subscription because I signed up for Readability.

    There is nothing here worthy of a recurring subscription. One-time, sure – there has been some good work done with Javascript and CSS that deserves to be compensated (although precious little that I can see over the last year-plus that the service has been free). There is no reason to pay that money every single month for no purpose other than to “pay writers” – writers who are either already being paid via our site subscriptions, or who aren’t asking for it (bloggers, documentation, etc).

    So far I haven’t seen a single thing here of any value to a *reader*. No new features for platforms that have been largely ignored (Kindle, Android), and yet another iOS client where we didn’t need one.

    A much better outcome would have been for Instapaper to simply have adopted the superior multipage collecting code and then continue to leverage what they’ve done. They already have a sane business model (free for most, one-time paid for additional functionality).

    At least the code is still available on Google Code – complete with the unfinished Kindle support and other things that have been tinkered with and never released. Fork it while you can, folks.

  26. @Ron – We’re seriously considering Kindle support. Follow us on twitter and this blog for updates.

  27. @HandyRandy – We’ve got an exciting roadmap ahead with all sorts of great features slated. It sounds like you’re seeking out specific features that are already on Instapaper.

    If you’re comfortable and happy with Instapaper, then by all means stick with it. We’re going to give you the chance to opt in to support writing as an Instapaper user soon. See Marco Arment’s (Marco is the guy behind Instapaper) post here: http://www.marco.org/3044068415.

  28. @Joshua Ochs – Thanks for your thoughts. Fortunately, the option to subscribe is just that – an option. I’m sure the service isn’t the right fit for some. The response to the service has been great so far…and we’re even more excited about our roadmap looking ahead.

  29. That’s real smart, just ignore me. You are a REALLY horrible sales rep. Screw this. I’m switching to Read It Later. You guys just don’t get it. I was probably the hardest possible person you could have convinced to leave Readability or Instapaper. Yet somehow you did it.

    Lemme give you some advice for in the future. Just don’t say anything. You actually made it worse than if you would not have said anything.

    So let’s recap -
    Readability account cancelled.
    Instapaper account abandoned.
    Read It Later account created.
    Questions answered… ZERO.
    Accounts lost from a premature launch… PRICELESS.

  30. Jeez, HandyRandy floods the comments, gets his question answered several times, then stomps off in a huff. Good riddance, I say.

  31. Hi !

    I don’t like your new model.

    I used to surf with the old bookmarklet, and I liked the way it was configurable… And it was fast too, not using your server as a proxy.
    Now, all is slow, and we cannot choose the fonts/color/links/style anymore. And the new stand-alone bookmarklet is very hard to find, too.
    Sorry, I don’t like all of this.

  32. Okay, interesting. This blog post – and the new release – is a month old and only now I got the big splash screen when I clicked on my bookmarklet. So I’m a bit late… anyway.

    Nice ideas, though I find most of them rather unnecessary. But I’ve got one problem: The new Readability doesn’t like curly quotes – or let’s say it likes some, but not others. I resumed reading a text I started yesterday – everything looked fine then. But today all I see is a lot of garbled text around curled quotes and apostrophies. Unusable, basically. Happens both with the bookmarklet and the new add-on (as if I really needed more addons to clutter up Firefox).

    And one request: Would it be possible to place the sofa icon (cute) further down in the sidebar? I always find myself clicking on it, especially since that’s where the “back to article” button used to be. And that’s the button you need most of the time. It’s really unlikely that I want to click on the Readability site while I’m reading elsewhere.