Readability, a browser tool which isolates the text on a webpage making it easier to read, has announced it’s moving beyond its humble beginnings to become a “full-fledged reading platform.” Readability will now offer iOS apps and, more importantly, it’s no longer a free tool.
The new Readability will cost you a minimum of $5 a month, with 70 percent of that fee going directly to the writers and publishers whose sites you visit.
Readability and similar tools, like Apple’s Safari 5 web browser have been criticized for cutting into publishers’ bottom line by eliminating online advertisements. The new non-free Readability is at least in part a way to address this concern. As readers, most people want a clean, distraction-free reading experience. At the same time no one wants to deprive their favorite websites of the income necessary to keep the site going. Readability’s new pricing plan is an attempt to find some common ground and keep everyone happy.
Not only does the new Readability give readers an option to hide ads and view a more readable page (which they may well be doing anyway), it provides a new source of income for the site. Even better, that additional revenue comes from the actual content, rather than simply the ads surrounding the content.
Ironically, in testing the new Readability, I realized that most sites I read regularly already have clean designs, nice typography and uncluttered layouts — sites that don’t really need Readability. But the new payment system can help those sites too. Readability’s payment system turns the service into something more than just a reformatting tool — it’s a bit like a roving micropayments system, handing out money to sites you enjoy.
Here’s how it works: The minimum fee is $5 a month, though Readability encourages you to spend more if you can afford it. The money is then split up between articles where you use Readability. Visit only one site and it will get all of your money; visit several dozen and each will see only a few pennies unless you up your monthly payment. You can use the Readability web interface to see where your money is going. It’s like micropayments, but all the transaction details are handled behind the scenes by Readability.
Of course you aren’t just paying the writers and publishers. Thirty percent of your monthly fee money goes to Readability, which has some new browser extensions, web badges, an API and some nice looking (though as-yet-unapproved) iOS apps built around the popular Instapaper.
The Instapaper contribution means that in addition to the “Read Now” button, which gives you a more readable version of the current article, there’s also a new “Read Later” button. Read Later works just like it does in Instapaper, saving the article to your account for when you have more time to read. Unfortunately, right now there’s no way to actually integrate your Instapaper account with Readability.
The “Read Now” and “Read Later” buttons can come from either the Readability browser extension, bookmarklet or from the site itself using a new embedded button (there’s also an API for more sophisticated integration).
Despite the integration tools and new payment system, it’s unlikely most sites will ever get rich from Readability. Of course it’s unlikely most sites are making much from Google Ads either, and it certainly never hurts to have another form of income, even if it is measured in pennies.
[Update: For those worried that Readability is no longer free at all, we should note that you can keep using the bookmarklets and browser extensions without paying for the service.]