The web's reading platform.

An Important Announcement

Since Readability launched just over a year ago, we’ve continued to evolve. The team has built an incredible platform for reading, along with our own apps for iOS and Android. Readability has been integrated into Pulse, Reeder, Longform, and several other chart-topping apps. We’ve attracted millions of readers that are loyal to Readability and use the service every day.

And we’ve taken some chances. Run some experiments. Today, we’re announcing the end of one of those: As of June 30, 2012, Readability will no longer accept reader fees.

What We Were Trying To Accomplish

We’re passionate about building tools to help great content flourish online. That goes beyond tinkering with layouts and time-shifting text. That means figuring out alternatives to broken business models that no longer adequately support most writers and publishers.

Ad-based models continue to erode, and the online subscription programs of many commercial publishers have yet to take off. For publishing to have a healthy future, we need to find better ways of paying for the content we value. Readability’s publisher payment plan was one such attempt—the first of many, we hope.

Why It Didn’t Work

Two things needed to happen for the publisher payment plan to be a lasting success. One, a large group of readers needed to support writing through Readability. Two, a large group of publishers needed to accept that support.

The first part went well. Thousands of you agreed to spend $5 a month (and sometimes more). But the second part proved difficult. Reading behavior on the Web is incredibly fragmented. Nobody reads from just 15 or 20 sites a month. People read from hundreds of sites a month, creating a vast long tail of publishers.

And the great majority of those publishers never registered. Out of the millions—yes, millions—of domains that flowed through Readability, just over 2,000 registered to claim their money. As a result, most of the money we collected—over 90%—has gone unclaimed. As of today there’s nearly $150,000 in earmarked money sitting in a separate, untouched bank account.

What We’re Doing With the Unclaimed Money

We don’t want that money. It was meant to support writing. And the feedback we’ve gotten from our audience tells us that’s what they want it to do, too.

If you registered as a publisher with Readability, we’ll be sending you any remaining money your site has earned by July 31, 2012, regardless of amount. Just make sure your address is up to date on your publisher account page so we have a place to mail the check. (We’ll be emailing reminders to all our registered publishers, and setting aside funds so the ones we don’t have an address for can update their information and claim their money at any point in the future.)

If you haven’t already registered your domain with Readability, you have until July 15, 2012 to do so. We’d love to give that money to every domain in our logs automatically, but we need to verify site ownership to keep others from claiming your money. Readability’s publisher registration process includes some important steps that help us do that. Publishers can register here.

But what happens after that? What if we’re not able to get every dollar back into every deserving writer’s hands? We’re going to do the next best thing we can think of. All remaining money that was put aside to be claimed by domain owners will be given to non-profit organizations that speak to the spirit of supporting reading and writing. Today, we’re incredibly excited to announce our first two donation recipients:

  • 826 Valencia. We’re donating $50,000 to 826 Valencia. Since we started brainstorming about which organizations to donate to, 826 Valencia popped up within minutes. It’s an amazing organization that is dedicated to supporting students ages 6–18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Their services are structured around the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success. Congratulations to 826 Valencia.
  • Knowbility. We’re donating $50,000 to Knowbility. Ever since the Readability javascript bookmarklet was released in 2009, we’ve heard from countless readers with disabilities that Readability has made a huge difference for them. By simplifying the reading experience and bringing the main content forward, Readability has proven invaluable for people with blindness, low-vision and cognitive difficulties. Established in 1998, Knowbility’s mission speaks to those very same goals. Their aim is to raise awareness and train web professionals about why and how to make the online world fully accessible to all, including people with disabilities. Congratulations to Knowbility.

We’re thrilled to put the money from this experiment to use with these fantastic organizations, but the real gratitude should go to the subscribers who took the leap and contributed their money to the Readability vision of supporting reading and writing.

What Comes Next

We encourage everyone to read over the Policy Change FAQ and register your domains if you haven’t done so already.

I’ll also be on The Big Web Show with Jeffrey Zeldman today (June 13, 2012) at 3pm EST to talk about the policy change and answer questions. You can tune in here to listen in.

Ending the publisher payment system allows us to put our full energy behind making Readability incredible for all of our users. We’ll continue to work with publishers, just as we’ll continue to forge relationships with developers and writers and readers and everyone else that’s become a part of the Readability ecosystem. It’s been a hell of a first year. The next one will be even better.

Stay tuned.

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

72 Responses »

  1. To recap: Money you collected on publishers’ behalf without their consent you will now hold to ransom for a few weeks, then hand over to third parties. All the while, your intentions and actions were noble and morally unimpeachable but not fraud or a violation of droit moral.

    Which part did I get wrong?

    Readability: The most egregiously unethical startup in Internet history.

  2. How about sending the money to the registered owners of the domains in question? Or, shock-horror, email the site owners. Shouldn’t be too hard…

  3. Joe, did you even read the post?

    They’re giving every cent out to publishers that have registered to accept contributions. What else are they supposed to do? Hold the money forever until someone comes and asks for it?

    I think given the circumstances this is the best possible solution. They had a big idea that they admit didn’t work as well as they thought it would, they were faced with a difficult problem, they’re speaking to it openly, doing right by the people who have registered, and contributing a huge amount of money to charities. Seems like everyone wins.

  4. Yeah, you commenters are sure spot on here. “What, giving unclaimed money to CHARITY!? So unethical! Such capitalism! The greed!”. And of course, “why not go through the sites and find their email adresses and email those MILLIONS of site owners, shouldn’t be that hard” is borderline genius. Bummer nobody else thought of that.

  5. So, let me get this straight: did Readability deliver content from behind paywalls to their subscribing customers that did not have access to content behind said paywalls without using Readability? That is, if I didn’t have a paid account for a site with a paywall, could I have used Readability to circumvent that?

    If so, then you are right, Joe Clark.

    If not, then Readability was right in trying a new business model.

  6. ^ How can sites claim when they’ve not even been made aware that money was “collected” on their behalf? That puts the onus on Readability. Using the “Charity donation argument” is just shirking your responsibility.

  7. What a great, great thing. Congratulations on trying to create something good for an industry mostly trying its best not to fail, by trying something new, by trying something creative and different. The internet is filled with millions of PC pundits, tools in basements with a Comcast connection, and ne’er an understanding of what it means to attempt to do great things.

    Forget them, and keep moving forward. Can’t wait to see what’s next…


  8. Nice to see you giving up your flawed business model.

    I never gave you permission to collect money on my behalf, and you made it Opt-In for me to hand over my contact information to you in order to collect any of it – something I do not want to do.

    You mislead users by making vague statements, as if all publishers they visited would get a portion of their fee when (and you never stated these numbers before on your site until now) 90% of the publishers they visit, you now admit, never got paid.

    Sleazy business model. Plan to never have anything to do with your site, your service, or anyone who works for you so long as I can.

  9. How do publishers go about registering their domain to receive their free money? A link would be helpful, couldn’t see anything relevant on the main site, other than how to add buttons to an article.

    This all seems quite obvious though, and although I like readability it surprises me that you didn’t expect to end up with large sums of unclaimed money – this should have been part of the plan from day 1. I appreciate you’re wanting to get rid of this cash, which takes the bitter taste out of our mouths, but it all feels a little naive tbh.

  10. Ha, I wonder if they’ll stop their paid plan after this and make the entire service free.

  11. Did Readability ever thought of pairing up with Flattr?

  12. Speaking as one of the few publishers who did sign up, I don’t think the harsh criticism of your approach here is undeserved. I’ve no idea how much money my publisher account has accumulated, but I’d be happy for that to go to charity, too – I haven’t exactly missed it.

    I was always skeptical of the model, but I don’t mind paying a fee for an excellent service, or for excellent content from the publishers. Keep up the great work. And brace yourselves for the continual shitstorm that’s just started here.

  13. @Johan

    You’re kind of missing the point.

    The problem is that customers have been paying for content under the assumption that the content creators will be paid.

    Money going to charity doesn’t benefit the content creator, and it was never the intention of the customer.

    Personally, I’m quite picky about what charities I support; and I’m sure many of readability’s customers will be irked to hear that their money is going to an entirely different place to what was promised.

    I’m not even entirely sure if this is legal.

    Claiming that everything is fine and dandy just because some cash is going to a charity might sound like a morally correct position, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

  14. To recap:

    joe clark, still the most grumpy, holier than thou, my way or the highway troll on the interwebz

    of course he still gets apoplectic about top posting in email so you know, there’s that.

  15. $5 a month * 12 = $60 a user for the last year.
    $150,000 ≈ 90% of fees.
    ∴ total fees ≈ $167,000
    = 2785 users willing to pay, unless I missed something?

    For what it’s worth, it sounded like a wonderful, albeit idealistic and impractical, idea. Kudos for trying it out.

  16. I considered signing up for the Readability Publisher Program. Then I read the Terms of Service (amusingly I just read it yesterday, so this is all fresh in my mind). There is no way in hell I could agree to those terms. It basically gives Readability the right to do whatever they want with my content (which they were already doing, even without my permission) and I would have to limit any liability Readability might have for doing whatever they want with my content.

    Some gems from the Readability Publisher Program Terms of Service.

    You shall not “modify, translate, or otherwise create derivative works of any part of the Readability Service”

    You know, the exact thing Readability does with my content. Or are we pretending that Readlists aren’t a derivative work?

    “You agree to hold Readability, its directors, officers and employees, harmless, including costs and attorneys’ fees, from any claim of copyright infringement or intellectual property misappropriation related to ANY WEB pages or articles sent THROUGH or processed through the Readability Service, the Readability website ( or through the Readability API.”

    So basically if I sign up to collect money from Readability, I have to hold them harmless for ANY copyright infringement on ANY web page or article I have authored that is sent through the Readability Service. So if I wrote an article that is behind a pay-wall, and someone figures out a way to add that to a ReadList… Oh well. Nothing I can do about that, unless Readability decides to be nice to me and remove the article. But they’re under no obligation to do that. They could just choose to let people freely redistribute my content against my wishes because I signed up for their Publisher Program to collect money they decided to collect on my behalf.

    And just to add insult to injury…

    “The Readability Service are protected by copyright, trademark, and other laws of both the United States and foreign countries. Nothing in the Terms gives you a right to use the Readability name or any of the Readability trademarks, logos, domain names, and other distinctive brand features.”

    Nice to know that Readability is protected by copyright and trademark laws that apparently don’t protect any of my content.

    So yeah. Good riddance to the Readability “publisher payment plan.” I look forward to the other exciting ways Readability will help great content flourish online.

  17. Actually, I suppose that number fails to take into account the percentage split between the publishers and Readability’s cut.

  18. It’d be nice if there was a way to check and see if any money was registered to a site before having to make an account and verify it’s yours. Such a pain.

  19. Glad to hear you’re getting out while the getting’s good. I think the proposed solution is probably the best one – site owners can still claim what little revenue they’ve had collected “for them” if they opt-in, and 826 is a great organization so it sounds like some good will come out of this. The amount of ill-will you’ve generated in the blogging community won’t be wiped clean, but this is a step in the right direction.

  20. I’ve never seen such whining online as I have from the anti-Readability crowd. Very quick to climb on their high horses and weave a tale of “sleaze”. The process was simple, it was outlined clearly but you guys didn’t want to participate. There were options to opt your site out of the service entirely, yet you complain.

    The model didn’t work. It had flaws. At least they tried something, and people who could benefit complained and whined the whole way. I’ve yet to see one of these people who attack Readability’s attempt at setting up a way publishers could get paid provide some plan of their own.

  21. I think if Readability were to do it again they’d probably not collect money without a reliable way to distribute it. I’m not horribly offended in their solution. However, if I were going to donate my $50 (approx what I paid in to Readability) to a non-profit, I’d take the tax write off. As one person it’s not that big of a deal but when you push that out to $150,000 after tax dollars that could have been pretax, it’s significant.

    The easiest solution is to donate it, which I get. The best solution is to return monies you can’t allocate back to the subscribers.

  22. Really fascinating to see how angry this has made people. Let’s say Readability was, as Joe Clark puts it, “The most egregiously unethical startup in Internet history”. Let’s say there was never any attempt to compensate creators, and it was all just a malicious cash grab, executed in bad faith.

    Per Ryan’s math, they collected $167,000 *total*. If we even say they have no right to donate that ill-gotten cash to charities, this seems like real small potatoes as vast criminal enterprises go. I’d like to think you naysayers can at least consider the *possibility* that giving the money to charity is a good-faith attempt to end this in a fair and positive way, and not somehow the culmination of their diabolical plan to rip off the world ($5 at a time! voluntarily! optionally!).

    If you can’t, man, I feel sorry you have to live in your head with all that suspicion and negativity. If the activity of companies like Readability make you this incensed, you are going to completely lose your sh** if you ever find out what’s going on in the world.

  23. Except, y’know, reading the original content as it was published.

  24. I second the request for a simple domain-checking tool. That would let creators easily determine if they should bother to request disbursement of funds, or not. It doesn’t have to show the precise amount collected, just whether there’s anything to be claimed in the first place.

  25. In two years, I made around $20, less than the minimum $50 for a payout. Will you be sending out checks for the balance, or will those funds be lost?

  26. @Andy – yes, we’re sending out checks for every person registered. Even if it’s less than the cost of a stamp.

  27. …And if there a more ubiquitous, wrong-headed, loud, thoughtless and social skills-deprived commenter “in Internet history” than Joe Clark, I’ve never met him. Quintessential stuff, Joe.

    Anyhow, Readability seems to pivot like other startups pivot and I don’t see much reason to believe they aren’t acting in good faith. They’re taking something that basically started as a wild experiment and try to tame it with business logic. Sometimes it’s gonna go smoothly and sometimes not. But to have gotten to where they are now? Kudos.

  28. Reductio ad Hitlerum: the Godwinian vehemence of certain anti-Readability voices makes me proud to serve on Readability’s advisory board.

    These people did these things because they love writers, love reading, love the web, and believe content and readers have gotten a raw deal because of the way most websites are designed.

    The need to maximize ad revenue accounts for many of those anti-reader decisions, and so the people behind Readability — who love writers and publishers — tried this experiment, seeking a better way to let readers pay for content.

    Had it worked, it would have changed our industry for the better, and might have saved small publishers who are drowning in this environment. It didn’t work. Not this year, not at this time. Live and learn and move on.

    I salute my friends at Readability for giving a damn about writers, readers, and content and for at least trying to think of a sustainable solution to the problem of who pays for content. If you are not working to solve that problem, if you are not innovating in this space, if you have not come up with something better than they have, perhaps you should lower your voice, put down your pitchfork, and address the folks behind Readability as peers, instead of setting straw men aflame and denying the humanity of people you don’t know.

  29. @Zeldman If Readability really “gave a damn” about writers they’d surely make more of an effort to contact said writers. At the end of the day it is NOT for Readability to decide what happens to the money without agreement of the subscribers who paid to support writers NOT charities (however noble the cause).

  30. Just to clarify, the only person on this thread to bring up Hitler? Zeldman.
    The first person to try to dismiss arguments as being straw men? Zeldman.

    So yes, let’s set aside the straw men.

  31. If people paid money for a service that truly did not work out, why can’t the unclaimed money be refunded to the customers?

  32. The money should be given to the writers who signed up. Those who didn’t should contacted by the Readability team. You can’t just claim money on behalf of someone without consent or even knowledge, but worse is giving that money, according the you their money, to someone else.

    If I paid $5 and read 10 sites and 2 sites are signed up then each site should receive $2.5, if more sign up then you adjust that on the fly, you pay out every x amount of time (or x amount and if it isn’t reached yet you put it aside till the next payment time) and they get cut in when they sign up.

    If Readability does not contact the not yet signed up sites then that only proves they do not care about the writers.

    Anyway whoever thought this was a good idea really should be in the business, if you couldn’t see all the backlash coming when you came upo with that plan then you shouldn’t have a job.

  33. @Keith Calder, stop shouting, you’ll hurt your throat.

  34. Can I have my donation money back? Or my share of what was unclaimed?

    I’m not even in the same COUNTRY as your charities, so feel free to refund me (keep the interest).

  35. Yes, our money should be refund.
    I paid to endorse quality content, not charity,

    I signed in because of Zeldman involvement, but I realize now that readability is a scam,

    Give us our money back !

  36. @zeldman You bring up a good point. I shouldn’t be shouting. All I can do is bring up my complaints and hope that Readability listens. The sense that I get is that my complaints are not being considered seriously, and so I’ll take my ball to another playground where people actually care what I think.

    On a side note, I do appreciate that Readability allows voices of dissent in the comments of their blog. I just wish they’d listen to them more.

  37. If the program is ending, then sites should be able to sign up for their payment due without having to agree to the previous terms.

  38. “Readability: The most egregiously unethical startup in Internet history.”

    Words fail me.

  39. I’ve never heard of Readability before today; do I understand this correctly?

    My experience as a random publisher of content on the Internet would have been to receive a communication from out of the blue:

    “We have money for you that we’ve made by scraping your site content, bypassing your site advertisements, and re-publishing it with our branding. If you collect this money, you agree that this is okay.”

    Worst. Business Model. Ever.

    The idea of providing a mobile publishing and sharing service for content providers who don’t want to take up the task of building their own mobile experience is a good one, but seriously? An internet model that relies on contacting people out of the blue, saying, “We have free money for you if you sign up here!!” And you’re surprised at the lousy response rate??

  40. Was giving the money back to the readers who paid $5 a month ever considered? Giving it to charity is indeed noble, but refunds would have made more sense to me.

  41. Not gonna lie, I thought the pay/donation model was too vague from the start. For everyone complaining here, it was just as much your fault for donating $5 to a service that never explained exactly where they would send your money. So suck it up. You should have been smart like the rest of us and simply used it for free.

    As for how we can pay content creators, blogging should always be free for both reader and writer. If a writer wants to get paid, go work for a major online newspaper/magazine. We know the ad model is weakening, but mobile app stores have taught us people are more than willing to send micropayments for stuff to read/play/do. That’s probably the future for good content, but it has to be seamless, and will likely require someone with a huge install base, such as aapl/goog/fb. Could be wrong, but those are my thoughts.

  42. I’m still waiting for evidence that I got my analysis wrong.

    Anyone care to top-post that? Or I’ll be in my usual haunt tomorrow reading the alt-weeklies over a double espresso if you’d care to chat.

  43. @Zeldman

    “If you are not working to solve that problem, if you are not innovating in this space, if you have not come up with something better than they have, perhaps you should lower your voice, put down your pitchfork, and address the folks behind Readability as peers, instead of setting straw men aflame and denying the humanity of people you don’t know.”

    I don’t need to innovate in this space to know a bad solution when I see it, and I don’t owe these people anything. In fact, they’re the ones who owe money to a lot of people, which they took without permission. And I’ll bet that most of those people won’t even know about this situation because Readability hasn’t contacted all of them, if any.

    The fact that they made this model ‘opt-out’ by default in the first place, and not ‘opt-in,’ says a lot I think. You can’t say that this was an okay thing to do because “at least they were trying to think of a solution” or that “they were experimenting/innovating.” If they REALLY cared about writers and publishers as much as you say, they never would have come up with the model they did.

  44. I’m sorry it didn’t work out. I guess I understand why the business model felt ‘naive’ to a lot of people. There really should have been a plan for unclaimed money.

    Not that many people share your vision, and not everyone who uses your service feel the same way you do about content on the web. Maybe in a simpler time.

    As for the money, I suspect some people would want it back. Perhaps you should ask customers (who seem to care more about this kind of service, seeing as they paid in the first place) whether they would like a refund or to make a donation. I don’t know what the implications are for Readability for holding the money longer, but wanting to get rid of it end of July feels a little rushed.

    In any case, I applaud you for trying to make it work.

  45. Joe, you’re analysis is dead wrong. But it’s up to you to figure out why. Think for yourself, for once.

    I have nothing else to say to you.

  46. SO, I donated through Amazon Payments. 14 payments, $70.

    Before I submit a complaint to Amazon on the transaction, I am supposed to contact the seller:

    “Contact Seller
    If you have a problem with a purchase, the fastest way to get help is to contact the seller. You should contact the seller if any of the following are true:
    …You received an item that was significantly different from the seller’s description.”

    I think in this case this applies. I donated to get money in the hands of the publishers whose content I enjoy. Clearly that won’t happen now; donating the money to a charity, while admirable, *IS* significantly different from what I gave you money for so I really would like a refund otherwise I’ll open a dispute w. Amazon Payments.

  47. i love joe clark. he always makes me laugh.

    i love readability. scraping _out_ ads is cool.

    i love john gruber. he’s all gruff and stuff.

    i love zeldman. he’s a relatively good writer.

    i love people who gave readability money,
    intended for the writers who _claimed_ it
    which everyone understood all along was
    a requirement for actually receiving money.

    i love it when a business tries new things.

    i love it when a business admits it has failed.

    i love the yapper back-and-forth of comments.

    i love the internet. more fun than monkeys!

    i love the sun here in lovely santa monica…


  48. Ultimately, this is just another iteration of the opt-in/opt-out debate. It’s a conversation we’ve had many times over the past decade or so, and it’s one whose outcome is pretty much settled.

    In this case, there are two in/out points, so there are four ways the service could have been arranged:

    Opt-in[ to have Readability distribute your content ], opt-out[ of getting paid ]: This version would be the easiest to defend. It’s a simple distribution agreement that doesn’t force content producers to jump through unnecessary hoops to get paid.

    Opt-in[ to have Readability distribute your content ], opt-in[ separately, to receive your share of any money Readability collects ]: People would probably hate that version. At best, it would be seen as bad organization, at worst, as a scam.

    Opt-out[ of having Readability distribute your content ], opt-out[ of getting paid ]: People probably wouldn’t like this one, but you could have a legitimate debate over whether being diligent about paying people balances out collecting money for work without asking permission first.

    Opt-out[ of having Readability distribute your content ], opt-in[ separately, to get paid ]: This is the least defensible option. It puts a burden on content producers to protect their work if they don’t want to participate, and a separate burden on them if they want to get paid. It’s the choice that’s been made by millions of marketing departments that want to sell your personal information over the years, and the consensus opinion is that they’ve been scumbags one and all.

    Readability’s model was the fourth one, at best.. I don’t know off the top of my head if there’s an easy way to opt out of having your pages scraped.

    There is not, and never has been, a good defense of opt-out[ to prevent us from doing whatever we want with your information ]. This iteration does not change that trend.

    There is not, and never has been, a good defense for opt-in[ to get your share of what we collected without your permission ]. This iteration does not change that trend.

    There have been millions of high-toned essays written by marketing deparments in defense of their opt-out[ of bad ]/opt-in[ for good ] policies. Most, if not all, tout high ideals. Many take a tone of injured virtue. This iteration does not change that trend.

    I won’t weigh in with an opinion about whether Readability’s model is legal, because I honestly don’t know. My guess is that it probably is. I don’t know that I could call it unethical, but IMO it certainly falls in the grey zone of ‘sharp’ business practices.

    I *can* criticize the model for being unscaleable. As of present date, Readability is only a minor player in the content distribution market. Yet even at this size, they find it impossibly difficult to bring even a significant fraction of concent producers into their payment system.

    If Readability’s primary goal is to see content producers get paid for their work, the project is clearly a failure.. by a wide margin that would only get wider as the service grew. Their commitment to that goal can be measured by the diligent, open, and public efforts they’ve made to increase the rate at which they identify content producers who deserve to get paid.

    As for donating the unclaimed money to charity, it smacks of the overt piety shown by those who know they’re being watched. Had the policy been announced before people started questioning the way Readability handles money, there would be no grounds for complaint. As things are, it looks like a hasty plan-B to launder and dispose of money that otherwise would have been used for revenue. I notice the statement above makes no mention of what’s been done with the *interest* on the $150,000 in an account sequestered for unpaid funds.

  49. @Dave :

    “SO, I donated through Amazon Payments. 14 payments, $70.

    Before I submit a complaint to Amazon on the transaction, I am supposed to contact the seller:

    “Contact Seller
    If you have a problem with a purchase, the fastest way to get help is to contact the seller. You should contact the seller if any of the following are true:
    …You received an item that was significantly different from the seller’s description.”

    I think in this case this applies. I donated to get money in the hands of the publishers whose content I enjoy. Clearly that won’t happen now; donating the money to a charity, while admirable, *IS* significantly different from what I gave you money for so I really would like a refund otherwise I’ll open a dispute w. Amazon Payments.”

    So you’re problem is with the people who aren’t collecting this money, yet you want to complain about Readability to Amazon? Do I have that right?

  50. My problems are strictly with Readability. I gave them money to give to content creators. If those said creators aren’t looking for the $$$, it isn’t up to Readability to turn around and hand it off to someone else. Sure, morally its nice that it goes to a charity (that I’ve never heard of) but how is it different then them unilaterally saying “we’re spending it on beer & pretzels”.

    Either sit on the $$$ until it gets paid out to the intended recipients or give it back to me. Seems simple enough.

  51. Why aren’t you just refunding the money?

    If you pay for a service and the service goes under, shouldn’t the customer get their money back. The company shouldn’t decide where it goes.

  52. It appears that Zeldman has gone into full “wag the dog” mode:

    “as I interview Rich Ziade, founder, hero, and villain behind the Readability reading platform, whose latest controversial move, announced earlier today, is to give $150,000 to charity.”

    “Controversial move”?1? Pathetic how you justify Ziade’s latest move by trying to ‘brand’ detractors.


    P.S. Waiting for Zeldman to reply with an oh-so-witty retort…

  53. Awesome news guys, this is a classy move.

    As always, I’m shocked at the vitriol produced by anything you guys do.

  54. @Amanda Mask: I’ll respond with a less than witty retort — the comments on this post sort of prove the controversial nature of the move.

  55. “…is to give $150,000 of other people’s money to charities of his choosing.”

    FTFY Zeldman.

  56. @A random scott from the internet:

    I use readability every day, often dozens of times. I do this because it offers a far better reading experience than most web sites, one that follows well known rules for legible typography.

    I understand your objections to having your ads filtered out. Provide a good user experience, and I won’t filter them out. Every use of this utility is a reaction to mediocre design.

  57. @Dave : Yes you should go and ask your money back, I assumed that if only a few of the sites that I read are signed up that they would together get all the money from me (minus readability share) turns out they split the money between everyone you visited and only payed out those that were signed up, keeping the rest of the money in their piggy banks, and now they feel like they can just do whatever they want with it. You didn’t pay for a charity and Readability doing so is grounds for a refund.

    @Christopher Burd: A reason for me is time shifting, I like to save articles for later, Readability lets me do that easily and it saves them offline so I can read them when I have no internet connection. The reformatting is definitely a big part, but the easily savable part are key for me.

    The biggest reason publishers don’t want to sign up is because they basically have to give all their rights to readability and they can do with their content whatever they wanted to do. Not like they didn’t already do that but if you wanted the money you couldn’t even protect your own IP anymore.

  58. You should consider giving users the option to be refunded their ~90% unpaid share before donating it.

  59. I think Mike Davidson’s post entitled What the Betamax Case Teaches Us About Readability from a couple months ago put some things in perspective for me. I don’t expect it to change the minds of many of the people here, but thought it’d be worth sharing a different perspective.

    “The anger about the financial side of Readability seems to come from the opinion that the company is “keeping publishers’ money” unless they sign up, but I guess I look at it differently: I don’t think it is the publishers’ money. I think it is Readability’s money. Readability invests the time and resources into developing their service and they are the ones who physically get users to pay a subscription fee. It’s hard to get users to pay for content and they are the ones who are actually doing it. They realize that the popularity of their service is a direct result of content creators’ efforts so they are voluntarily redistributing 70% of it back to publishers in the only way it is feasible to: based on pageviews from publishers who register themselves.

    If you are a publisher and you don’t sign up, Readability doesn’t take your money. It’s all accounted for and available to you once you sign up. I’m not even sure if there is an expiration date on this collection, but there should be. If I were Readability, I’d probably put something like a year limit on it such that if it wasn’t claimed within that time period, it would go onto the company’s balance sheet as revenue.”

    What I like more about how Readability handled this is that instead of that unclaimed money going to Readability, it’s going to good causes.


  60. Apologies for my first post; it was rather acidic…

    @Christopher Burd

    There’s nothing wrong with a killer product that provides a great experience. Reading without ads is more fun than reading with ads, in every case.

    I’m not sure where copyright falls on the alteration and re-serving of a webpage. How legal is it? I dunno… but it’s surely disrespectful, and it’s not just about ad revenues, either.

    For example, does Readability screen out Creative Commons non-commercial content?

    Say I re-post someone else’s Creative Commons Non Commercial post (perfectly okay… and I may not even need attribution) and it goes into Readability. Then later… they have a cheque for me. Uh-oh. But I know for sure that *I* didn’t infringe, because I never even knew about it. Practical situation? Probably not. But it highlights the disrespect.

    The web is not a game of “Do what you like with the tag soup once it’s served.” Poor usability is sad, but saying “Poor usability means I have the right to disrespect you and your content” is wrong-headed.

  61. To read these comments would scare any entrepreneur from ever trying something new again. Why try to do something risky and new if all your going to get is attacked an called names. I’m not referring to the intelligent debate and dissenting opinions, I appreciate that. I’m referring to the attacks on Readability’s morals and ethics.

    Readability is a startup of people. They are nice people. They are truly well meaning people. Having spent a lot of time with them, I can tell you they want to make a great product that benefits readers, writers and publishers. In fact, I am one of these people. My company built the Readability mobile apps.

    We were interested in partnering with Readability because they are ACTIVELY trying to find new payment models. I liked that they were experimenting. They were not just having active debate and discussion around the future of content, they were trying to shape it with action.

    @joeclark, I know we don’t see eye to eye on most things but at some point you need to propose some solutions and not just throw around criticism. When you call Readability unethical, you are calling me unethical. At least say it to my face. We do, after all, live in the same city.

  62. So… you collected money under false pretenses, and now instead of just giving it back which would be the prudent thing to do given that your business model didn’t really pan out as promised, you just ship it away to some third party without consent? Yeah, that’s nice. I wouldn’t be surprised if you had a close friend working at some of these charities.

    It is very unclear how you even contacted the authors. It’s not exactly hard given that the majority is probably even in the whois records. My guess is you didn’t, because you didn’t care. Also you might not want to force authors to jump through hoops to get their money.

    It is _their_ money after all, you collected it all based on a promise that it was for the authors. This matter turns out double-sleazy no matter how you twist and turn it.

  63. I’m one of the people who believes it’s a fact, not an opinion, that this combination of opt-in/out (per Mike Stone above) really is not a good idea.

    It may be legal, but I kind of doubt it; this really does amount to “we’re taking something that’s yours, distributing it, and accepting payment for it.” That you offer the option for a content creator to recover some of those funds (in return for accepting an uncharitable agreement) does not change the fact of what you’re doing in the first place: Banking off other people’s work without even the pretense of asking permission.

    I also question the ethics of this. If the intentions were good, they were accompanied by remarkable short-sightedness regarding the actual fact of the previous paragraph. It’s easy to suggest their point of view and intentions were all warm and friendly, but any logical person involved at any phase of this project should have been able to step back ever so slightly and say “hey, wait, distributing other people’s content for money might not amount to an honest business model.”

    So while it’s obvious that this was in fact not viable, the reaction should make the people behind this mistake reconsider how carefully they approach their next business, and hopefully help them avoid the negative publicity and reputation that comes with theft.

  64. Mike Stone, I blow you a kiss.

  65. Jon, I would call only your business partner unethical and on the basis of another topic. But if you feel you have been insulted, fine.

  66. I’ll raise my voice because I need somerhing like Readability to work out one day.

    My voice says that you are really crap at this, guys. I hope that the future will be very, very different, because you will never get a penny from me otherwise. Good luck, may the Force etc.

    Tip: take Joe Clark as your baseline satisfaction level. Never quit until he likes it.

  67. ““The anger about the financial side of Readability seems to come from the opinion that the company is “keeping publishers’ money” unless they sign up, but I guess I look at it differently: I don’t think it is the publishers’ money. I think it is Readability’s money.”

    If I buy a service through an intermediary and they are unable to find the service provider, how does it become the intermediary’s money?

    It would be fine if Readability clearly stated up front they’d keep unclaimed money, but otherwise Mike Davidson is flat wrong, it’s essentially theft of customer funds if you don’t use it for what was promised. It would be like the boy who delivers your paper pocketing your subscription payment, and then when the newspaper goes under telling you it must have been because they were so lousy at making their delivery boys cough up subscription payments.

    I don’t understand why Readability thinks it’s fine to take customer monies meant for publishers and give it to charity. They should return it to the customers if they can’t find the publishers.

  68. “To read these comments would scare any entrepreneur from ever trying something new again. Why try to do something risky and new if all your going to get is attacked an called names. I’m not referring to the intelligent debate and dissenting opinions, I appreciate that. I’m referring to the attacks on Readability’s morals and ethics.”

    No entrepreneur is going to be dissuaded from pursing ethical business models by the criticism of those who didn’t.

    And we get it. Readability paid you to write mobile apps (or you did it for some future financial benefit) and they were really nice to you. That doesn’t mean that taking customer funds and giving it away to their favorite charities is right or ethical, no matter how right or ethical they’ve been in other business dealings.

    And you can’t just dismiss ethics by saying they were “experimenting”, that word isn’t magic that should shield you from criticism, esp. when your “experiment” is an active business that is taking money from customers.

  69. Bravo to Readability. Thank you.

  70. You know, funny thing about ethics is that they aren’t set in stone, they aren’t absolute, and not everybody agrees to the same system of ethics.

    For instance, according to the typical chinese or japanese system of ethics, if you can’t manage to make money off your own content without some kind of government granted monopoly (like copyright) on that content, you don’t deserve the money that other people make by copying your content. — The rightful owner of any moneys are those that take the opportunities to actually get money- to actually sell products not some wishy washy code of creator honor. A code that I’ve seen jump the shark on many occasions, such as one instance where I saw a guy totally lose it on Threadless when a competitor based his design on a well known public domain Alphonse Mucha design.

    One particularly agregious consequence of this creator code of “ethics” is when a creator selfishly holds on to their works, not selling, not sharing, and just letting their work die- denying the culture at large from benefitting from their work. It’s an inherently selfish and individualistic philosophy. And while I think it’s great if an artist can make money from their work, it’s not a human right, and someone else making money off your work isn’t a wrong that has been perpetrated on you, it’s a lost opportunity on your part. They are just better at sales and marketing than you are. Suck it up.