Leaving Instapaper for Readability

Update: Readability has informed me they are not venture-backed. I apologize for the error.

Instapaper is a “read it later” service, that lets you save long-form articles and blog posts from the web to read at your convenience on your iPhone or iPad. It strips out ads, pagination, and navigation for a clean reading experience. Instapaper is slick, clean, and simple, but a newer upstart service called Readability is infringing on its turf.

Some people have argued that Readability is a “rip-off” of Instapaper and is bad because it is venture-backed vs Instapaper’s one-man operation. I don’t really care about that, my chief argument is that Readability is a better service, with a better philosophy, and thus is what you should use.

Readability offers very nice integration with web browsers (via extensions), works very nicely with the Amazon Kindle (with an instant “send to Kindle” function), and generally offers more polish and better style than Instapaper, both on its web site and its apps. But the most important reason why Readability is a better product is because of a unique and very powerful subscription model.

You see, the ability to strip out all of the ads, pagination, navigation, and other chrome from an article and just get the pure text is a wonderful thing for the end-user, but it is not at all good for the publisher. Those ad impressions are what pay for that content. As long as I have used Instapaper I have always felt a little bit dirty.

How to solve this philosophical conundrum? Readability facilitates this in a very innovative and cool way. You decide how much money you want to pledge every month towards a content “subscription,” minimum $5. Readability keeps track of what you read over the course of the month and divides up your subscription pricebetween the publishers of the articles you read, minus a 30% cut. They take care of aggregating all of the subscriptions and paying each publisher every month. The more people read a given article, the more they get paid.

Simple, elegant, and very fair. Once I discovered Readability, I felt bad about being a leech for so long, and I felt bad about Instapaper, the service that has let me do so. And for that reason above all, I am now a proud Readability subscriber, and you should be too!

14 Comments

  1. Readability is not venture-backed. I know them. It’s a consulting company in NYC that invests a portion of their time in experimental development. They’ve done lots of projects like Readability. All of them interesting and innovative.

  2. I suspect that 30% cut is what’s going to cause Readability all the problems in the future as it directly shows that they profit from the content of others, and don’t contribute to the advertisers who support the content normally. Perhaps content producers will abandon ad networks for readability funds, but I doubt it. Interesting model though.

  3. James, unless those content producers are selling their ad spaces directly to aend-advertisers, the middle men (Google, etc) are surely taking a cut. And probably more than 30%. These days 30% is becoming a standard fee for providing infrastructure that connects a buyer of X with a seller of X. That’s still a middle man but as long as they’re providing a useful service it can work.

  4. I don’t think anyone should feel bad about using Instapaper because the publisher still gets the ad impressions. In order to send an article to Instapaper, you have to load a page, including all of the ads, before using the bookmarklet to save it. At this point I’ve already seen the ads so I definitely want them removed from the article I’m reading later.

    The same applies to subscription based sites. For example, I have a subscription to the NYT so it’s already getting my money before I use Instapaper to read its articles later.

    The ability to save multiple pages at once was actually added just a few days ago, probably in response to competition from other read later services. Although that definitely cuts down on page views, I think a lot of people were loading the print view, which has all of the content on one page, before saving anyway.

  5. 1. Instapaper has a nice “send to Kindle” feature.
    2. With a 30% to Readability cut and with you deciding how much you pay on the ads, probably underpaying, you’re the same “leech” – your words – as before

    Best
    Stephan

  6. Just FYI, instapaper has readability integration for just this purpose. You can set it up so every article you save with instapaper is automatically added to your readability queue, and thus accounted for in the monthly revenue split.

    Use whichever interface you like.

  7. Presumably you are visiting the website and then saving it to Instapaper which means they are indeed getting the ad impressions. And like James said above, the 30% cut to offer you someone else’s content is a little fishy.

  8. Ever wonder if any publishers have actually collected any of your contribution? There’s NO accountability about how much money actually makes it to publishers; since Readability does not seek the publishers, each publisher must be aware of their money, and go collect it from Readability, and if they do not, eventually it becomes Readability’s. It’s a great model, and the ethics are wonderful, but it suffers from this fatal flaw.

  9. @Michael and @Idan Gazit:
    In the past Instapaper did work closely with Readability, but when they became direct competitors that integration and support very quickly disappeared. It is no longer possible to sync Instapaper reading lists with Readability, and Marco Arment is no longer involved in any capacity with Readability.

  10. I don’t understand why Readabilty, Instapaper, and blogs don’t integrate more with micropayment systems like Flattr (http://flattr.com/). Readability’s 30% cut seems like a lot to me. Also, why reinvent the micropayment wheel and limit it to just blogs? Other than the payment system there isn’t much functional difference from Instapaper. (disclosure: I’ve only sampled Readability whereas I’ve used Instapaper for a year+)

    Another commenter, Quinn, brought up the most important point, “Ever wonder if any publishers have actually collected any of your contribution?”. Where’s the accountability for Readability? How do you know if the blogs you read are hooked in with Readabilty? If they aren’t, is there money kept in some sort of interest bearing account as an incentive to signup? Shouldn’t that already be disclosed somewhere?

    You don’t have these problems with Flattr. Both Instapaper and Readability could simply scan for the Flattr link during the same time they’re stripping out the other elements. The Flattr link could then be dynamically added to either program if it exists.

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