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.
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.