The web's reading platform.

What We’re About

While we’re hacking away on some great new features for Readability, we thought now would be a great time to pause, come up for air and share what we’re about:

  1. We want more people to read great stuff on the web.
  2. We want to evolve the model that supports the publishers who create that great work.
  3. We want the experience of reading that work to be as pleasant and rewarding as possible.
  4. We believe the fundamentals of publishing, writing and reading on the web are evolving rapidly.

How we consume things is changing and the original notion of “publish and consume in the web browser” is being challenged. What is clear from everyone’s experiments, including our own, is that the current reading experience isn’t as good as both writers and readers deserve. As we build innovative tools and products here at Readability, we think carefully about the decisions we make. We’re a small, independent, bootstrapped company, but we think we can have a big impact on how everyone reads. And we know it’s an important opportunity because we’re joined by a number of innovative companies, both big and small, who are all trying different ways to make this work.

Reading a web page in your web browser is simple enough, but the other ways we can work with that story today are nearly infinite. For example:

  • If you send a tweeted link from your Twitter app to your Instapaper account, it lands there without you ever viewing the original web page.
  • If you open just about any link in a news reading app like Zite, you will find the content of that article without ever viewing the original web page.
  • If you turn on a mobilizer view in some popular Twitter clients, you will open a mobile view of a page without ever viewing the original web page.
  • …and who knows what’s possible with the right combination of IFTTT and Pinboard and many other powerful, awesome apps that share, remix, store and reformat content.

We’re fortunate that people are passionate about this stuff, passionate enough to really get their emotions going. Even people who work in the same office as our Readability team have fallen into the mistaken belief that this is somehow a team sport where we have to choose sides between different apps. So it’s no wonder that even smart, thoughtful writers can say surprisingly vitriolic things with uncharacteristic thoughtlessness when writing about an area as exciting as this one.

Paying Publishers

We are immensely proud of one key part of our experiments with Readability so far: We cut checks to writers. And we want to cut more of them. We welcome more readers to pay and more publishers to register and claim their money. We take pride in being the first reading platform to try something this radical. Is our method of paying publishers the right one? Almost certainly not yet. If you’re a publisher and are uncomfortable for any reason, contact us and we’ll fix the issue.

We’re experimenting because we do not believe that, ten years from now, advertisers will be happily paying for CPM banner ads on a site that people leave to read in some other app. And we don’t believe that publishers will support over the long term paid apps which generate no revenue for the publisher. The model we’re experimenting with definitely has its challenges, and we’re going to be careful about how we handle change because we made a public promise by way of our model.

Above all else, we take great pride in what we are about. Many publishers have approached us with both words of encouragement and opportunities to work together. Countless developers have built a thriving ecosystem around the platform. These bridges have been built because we’ve gone about this endeavor with purpose, integrity and a profound belief in the words great writers write and the meaning that readers find in them.

We’ve got more great things to come as we look ahead. And by “we” we mean our partners and the amazing community that has embraced Readability. Stay tuned.

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

33 Responses »

  1. Why are your two main competitors not controversial, but people keep complaining about your business practices?

  2. Scott Lewis, i’d argue that Marco has some minor criticisms, but in general has good things to say about Readability.

  3. Because the people complaining seem to all be part of a circle of friendship around at least one of the developers of those other services? Seems

  4. each time Readability makes a change or update, it’s followed by a group of blog posts from the same gang trying to knock down the service in favour of their friend’s.

    (excuse the split comment)

  5. @blatherskitist – I don’t think that excuses the behavior of Readability collecting money on behalf of, and without the knowledge or consent of, publishers and writers. What a bunch of silliness. “Hey people are questioning our ethics, let’s blame that guy who was really helpful to us and too nice to say anything blatantly critical.”
    I’m not a friend of you-know-who but I listen to a podcast he does. I have no skin in this game, but I am appalled at this point by Readability’s behavior.

  6. @j-nunyabiz appalled by Readabilitys behaviour? What behaviour is it that offends you so much? This blog post is a response to the rather personal attack made today by Daring Fireballs John Gruber (a buddy of Instapapers Marco Armant). I also listen to Build & Analyze. It seems to me that Marco himself has also had plenty to say about his competitors recently. Regardless, I don’t see how this blog post blames Instapaper for anything. As an avid reader I love the concept behind both platforms but it’s clear that by stripping away advertising from the work of writers, both Instapaper and Readability deprive those writers of a stream of income.

    Marco charges $5 for his app and also welcomes monthly payments from users. That money supports Instapaper. To my knowledge there is no attempt, beyond attribution, to reward the writers whose work Instapapers success is built upon.

    Readability don’t charge for their app but do welcome monthly payments, a percentage of which is paid to writers who register with them.

    Neither solution is perfect but it’s disingenuous of Marco (or his circle of podcasting cohorts) to paint Readability as the sole bad guy, screwing writers out of page hits and advertising revenue, while Instapaper does the very same thing and makes no attempt to find any sort of forward thinking business model to reward the writers whose coat tails both apps ride upon.

    If yon are appalled by Readabilitys attempt to set the record straight, then I’d argue that you are appalled way too easily.

  7. @Rob: You took the words right out of my mouth.

  8. I’m new to this whole argument, but I really don’t see what it can be about beyond personal attack.

    Yeah, I think Readability has an issue they need to address with collecting money for publishers, but I don’t think this is a ‘core’ problem, just something they haven’t quite perfected yet. As @Rob said, at least they are trying to provide revenue for publishers.

    Why does everyone attack Readability so much. I got the app today and it seems fantastic. As it’s something I barely use at the moment the fact that the app is free was more attractive than Instapaper, and the possibility of supporting the company and publishers in the future seems very likely when I start using the app enough.

    Keep the good work up guys, you seem to be on to a winning business model here.

  9. Instapaper requires in almost every circumstance that you visit the article before you save it. I don’t see how it steals ad views, edge cases like some third-party Twitter clients aside.

    Readability is a copycat service; nothing wrong with that. But ever way it differs from
    Instapaper is for the worse. I wish them luck.

  10. How does Instapaper rob anyone of page hits? You have to visit the page to save the article. This is why the sharing issue caused problems for Readability.

    I think the main reason these writers are attacking Readability, is a bit more complex than they are friends with Marco. Some consider it a “copycat” service. Some don’t like their business model. Some writers have issue with Readability offering a different revenue stream, without their consent. Some just like to stir up crap. I don’t care about any of these reasons, but I can see why content creators might.

  11. @casey

    1. Visit http://thefeature.net (affiliated with Instapaper)
    2. Click a ‘read later’ button below any of the listed articles
    3. Voila! The writers work has been added to your Instapaper queue without ever having to visit the writers own site.

    Like I said, both Readability and Instapaper business models have the potential to deprive writers of ad revenue and page hits. Let’s just stop pretending Instapaper is a saint and Readability a sinner.

  12. Rob,

    I followed your instructions. Clicking the read later button saved the article, then redirected me to the original site.

  13. @casey yowza. Then I eat my words and offer my humble apologies. But let’s be honest; adding the article to your Instapaper queue before taking you to the article betrays the users likely next step (ie instantly close the web page and read it later in Instapaper). Better than nothing. But not ideal for the sites author who’d likely prefer you stay on the site, browse other articles and click on a few ads.

    Trouble is readers don’t want ads. Everything about the online ads model takes away from the end users enjoyment and the usability of the authors site. What someone needs to figure out is a better way to compensate writers for their work. Readabilitys model is less than perfect but at least it’s an attempt in that direction.

  14. @Rob and @Casey:

    That way may not work, but at the moment I use read later services almost exclusively from my Twitter client on my phone as I dislike reading on it. That lets me tap and hold on a link and ‘Send to’ Instapaper or Readability. I never see the site.

  15. I agree with you on both your points here. I see why content providers would dislike both services. As a reader I’m glad they both exist.

  16. Instapaper also provide an email address which you can use to send links without visiting the host site.

  17. Regardless of whether the user visits the page to save, something has to else the content can’t be saved.

    @Rob, as a reader, I agree. I don’t want ads. And never click on them. So the most an author will get from me is a single ad impression.

    I don’t use Instapaper, nor Readability. I use ReadItLater. And, whilst I like the idea of authors being paid for their content, I dislike Readability making money off the authors that haven’t signed with them, in the name of being good.

  18. I do agree that Readability could help themselves out by being crystal clear about what happens to unclaimed money. Does it sit there indefinitely? Does it become the property of Readability after languishing unclaimed for a certain length or time? Does it get donated to a charity? If so, which?

    It seems the most pressing concern people have about Readability’s business model (which I for one believe to be a noble, forward thinking goal) is the lack of clarity surrounding the fate of unclaimed subscription funds.

    That said, I think calling the Readability team ‘scum bags’ is grossly unfair and is an incredibly cynical way of rallying support behind Grubers buddy, Marco. People like to insinuate that Readability is a copycat. Not so. If it were we wouldn’t be debating the merits of their unorthodox business model.

  19. People keep referencing the “pay the publishers” part of Readability.

    If Readability gives their app and service away, at what point do they make revenue in which to pay the publishers?

  20. Rob, I agree, the issue of the unclaimed funds is the biggest one, and it’s one that makes me reluctant to sign up at this point. I’d much rather they simply say that the 70% portion of the subscription fee goes only to those publishers in your monthly reading list who’ve actually signed up. If a publisher doesn’t sign up, no money is held for them until they do sign up.

    Otherwise, I agree that calling Readability scumbags seems unfair. They’ve been very professional in all my dealing with them, other than seeing a rather snippy criticism of Marco on twitter when he implemented new fonts a few weeks ago. I’ve had dealings with several, and they have all been very un-scumbaggy. :-)

  21. Lot of bullshit in the comments here, gentlemen. I don’t have the time or interest to correct all of you, but I run The Feature, so as for this:

    > 1. Visit http://thefeature.net (affiliated with Instapaper)
    > 2. Click a ‘read later’ button below any of the listed articles
    > 3. Voila! The writers work has been added to your Instapaper queue without ever having to visit the writers own site.

    Those buttons are provided for anybody that wants to use them and are all over the web. Read It Later and Readability have buttons that do the same thing. And Longreads and Longform.org also do the exact same thing with them. Instapaper is no more “robbing” pageviews in this regard than anybody else. Every publisher I’ve heard from loves The Feature.

    By the way, the money Readability collects for publishers that isn’t claimed after a year is kept, last I read. That is why Gruber called them scumbags.

  22. @richard I think you are misinterpreting my comments. Firstly I apologised and corrected myself regarding the assessment of thefeature.net. It’s a great site that I visit regularly. I am not trying to single out Instapaper. All of the read it later type apps make reading more pleasurable for the user. It may even be that a lot or writers approve of them too. Each has it’s own business model and there is room for all three.

    I simply post my comments here as a reasoned defence of Readability who seem to be under personal attack from Gruber. I love the guy. I wear a Daring Fireball t-shirt regularly. I listen to The Talk Show religiously. But it unprofessional and offensive to start tarring Readability’s staff as scumbags. It’s distasteful to see the 5by5 guys ragging on a competitor of Marcos Instapaper in such a personal manner.

  23. @david One thing they could do instead of holding the funds for a year, would be holding funds for a publisher for a month. If those funds aren’t claimed by the time the next subscription payment rolls in, they split that money amongst the publishers that WERE signed up. I think this would entice more people to sign up for subscriptions, and I think it would entice publishers to sign up too because they would be getting more money per subscription. Enrolling early would just net you more money.

    Of course you’d see idiots complain that money collected in their name then went to immoral sites, etc. instead of Readability.

    What if Readability gave publishers a quick way to send funds collected in their name to the charity of their choice. It would be much faster/simpler than signing up for payment so people shouldn’t complain about being hassled. Also, publishers that have a beef with the service could then keep the money out of Readability’s funding, and they wouldn’t feel all slimy for signing up to accept payment while bashing them on their website. It would also be a great from a PR standpoint.

    But what do I know.

  24. Richard, while I have already posted that Readability’s current policy on collected monies is not where it should be, I have a hard time seeing how their current policy makes them scumbags with respect to publishers.

    They are offering an option for customers to pay money towards the publishers of the articles they read. Given that some publishers have not signed up (and this statement will always be true), some of those publishers won’t get paid, true. The real issue there is that some of the 70% paid by the customer will not find its way into publisher hands. This is an issue between Readability and its paying customers, though, in that it may constitute a breach of contract, of sorts (I’m not a lawyer, though). It’s certainly a concern of mine.

    Given that, I really don’t see how a publisher who doesn’t want to sign up – for whatever reasons – is being unfairly hurt by this policy. Readability has never advertised that any given publisher gets paid, and from what I’ve seen on twitter, they have a page showing paying customers exactly which publishers are being paid by them. How exactly, then, is the publisher who doesn’t sign up being hurt in any way – other than perhaps a loss of page hits, which applies equally to the competitors? Just wondering?

  25. Publishers large and small (like the one I represent) need to get used to the fact that parasitic apps like Readability and Instapaper are going to undermine our ability to be sustainable businesses. Fighting that is pointless. We need to ensure that the experience we deliver in situ is good enough that people either pay for it directly or happily consume the ads.

    (Note that I’m not using “parasitic” pejoratively. I mean it in the dictionary definition sense of “living off another”. Without someone else’s original content, an app like Readability has zero value.)

    But knowing that the parasites are inevitable doesn’t make it any less annoying when Richard says…

    “We’re experimenting because we do not believe that, ten years from now, advertisers will be happily paying for CPM banner ads on a site that people leave to read in some other app.”

    …while he IS one of those other apps.

    Somehow it is easier to stomach the honest transparency of Instapaper, which doesn’t *claim* to be in it for the good of the publisher. While I really want to believe that Readability does have my interests at heart, my instincts (and often their actions) tell me otherwise.

    It is unfortunate that silly name calling is diverting attention from the real issues that we should be discussing, but at least it got the discussion going. After all, Readability or Instapaper aren’t going to be very good businesses if they kill their hosts or drive them behind a paywall.

  26. I am completely sympathetic to the concerns that have been raised about how money is collected and paid, but it is difficult to make sense of Gruber’s vitriol in any other context than “They are competing with my buddy and I don’t like it.”

    Readability introduced me to the concept and I have since purchased Instapaper. I will continue to use both for the forceable future, mainly because:

    1. Outside aesthetics, Instapaper’s app is plainly superior to Readability’s.
    2. Instapaper’s parsing is just flagrantly inferior to Readability’s.

    I am definitely rooting for Readability to be a change agent in the area of monetizing long form web content.

  27. Who put Gruber in charge of the internet? Once he actually builds something useful I’ll give his opinions more value.

  28. John Gruber is a giant when it comes to all things Apple, but when he ventures outside his field of expertise it’s not a pretty sight. He has some of the stupidest, mouthbreathing political views like a naïve teenager, and does not understand the app economy.

    The childish attacks against the Readability team just diminish his reputation. And I’m not happy about that. People often forget there are actual human beings behind products, not scumbags.

    So yeah, Team Readability. Gruber should go hang his head in shame.

  29. Honest question from an Instapaper user thinking about switching to Readability: how much of the 70% is currently ending up in the hands of the writers/publishers?
    If it’s high then I’ll probably use it; I love the stated premise.
    I’m a tad uncomfortable not knowing how much remains unclaimed and goes back to Readability instead. I’m happy to pay for Readability itself, but I want to understand where the money is going.

  30. @Joel
    There is a dashboard available to you on your readability account page that shows how much is set aside for each website you use the service on. The money is held for a year, if the publisher doesn’t claim the money it goes to Readability. How much is actually paid out depends entirely on whether or not the publishers claim the money.

    I’m not sure why everyone has an issue with the possibility that not all of the 70% makes it to the publisher. It only takes a little bit of reading comprehension to see that it is “upto” 70%. You have the option to pay $5 dollars a month or more to use their service, they, under no obligation from anybody, attempt to pay 70% of that subscription to the authors you read. After a year the money goes into Readability which is fine as far as I’m concerned, because they do a good job building a beautiful service.

    I started with Readability when it was just a browser bookmark, long before instapaper existed, I then moved to instapaper to time-shift articles. I had a brief stint with Read It Later, but found their apps and plug-ins lacking, and finally came back to Readability when they started offering time-shifting. Readability is hands down better in regards to its prolific integration with the apps I use, and its parsing is by far the best of any service I’ve used.

    I’ve tried pretty much all of the available options, and in my opinion Readability is the best in class, the fact that some of the subscription is sent to authors is just icing on the cake.

  31. Just want to say we’re reading and listening to conversations here and in as many places as possible. Thanks to everyone—everyone—for engaging in conversation we still feel will bring reading on the web to a better place for all.

    Thank you.

  32. All I can say is amazing amazing idea and service! I started using readability yesterday and i feel like i have been using it forever! Mad props guys!!!