First, I want to say that I have been an Instapaper user for several years. I think the service is wonderful, and I think Marco is a cool guy. If Readability hadn't come out with a native iOS app, I'd definitely still be using Instapaper today. The fact is, I didn't switch to Readability because I like the app better. I think both apps are great! This post isn't about which app you should use, it's a response to the negativity surrounding Readability's subscription service.
As soon as Readability hit the App Store there was a flurry of articles and blog posts condemning the service. Why? Well, supposedly people are upset with the way Readability collects money on behalf of publishers. This is the dumbest thing I've read in a long time. First off, it's an opt-in service. If you don't want money from them, you won't get money from them. Second, what exactly is the downside of offering publishers a little bit of money versus nothing? It's the equivalent of a tip jar, and in my opinion it's brilliant. It's the sole reason I switched to Readability and became a subscriber. I feel better knowing that I'm helping replace any ad revenue lost due to my scraping of a site's content.
Now, lets get to the real reason behind the negativity. It's not about Readability sending money to publishers. It's about Readability swooping in and kicking Instapaper in the nuts, and Marco's friends stepping in to help a brother out …nothing more. The problem I have with all these people isn't that they are backing Marco/Instapaper, it's the fact that they are trying to make it seem like subscribing to Readability is pointless and/or doesn't benefit anyone but the people behind Readability. Bullshit. I don't remember reading one negative story about Readability when their service required you to subscribe. It only became controversial when Readability plopped their fully-functional free iOS app into the mix and undercut Instapaper.
If you are going to hate on Readability, there is plenty real motive to go around. Tell people you are backing Marco. Tell them about all the nastiness that's gone on behind the scenes of these two competing products. Tell them you hate red god damn chairs. I don't care, just don't try and tell people Readability's collecting of money on a publishers behalf is shady or nefarious unless you can show us proof. And no, Readability taking $1.50 out of $5 to support their service doesn't count. That's called a business model.
After a short chat with @BenjaminBrooks on twitter I can see how Readability may upset some publishers. Readability earmarks money for publishers whether or not they have signed up to receive payments. This money will sit in a little jar with that publishers name on it for a year. If that publisher chooses not to register with Readability their jar of money goes somewhere else instead. (Back to supporting the Readability service, to a charity, or straight to a bookie …it's apparently a mystery.) Regardless, it's not benefiting the publisher even though the reader probably assumes it is. If I were a publisher that, for whatever reason, dislikes the Readability service (hates content scraping in general, thinks Readability takes too big of a cut, or just loves Instapaper) I would have to take action to make sure that my money jar wasn't used elsewhere. This means a) Begrudgingly registering with the service while trying not to vomit, or b) Contacting Readability and asking for your domain to be added to their black list. Either way, it's forcing me to act and that makes nasty feelings emerge.
As a reader, I see things differently. I subscribe as a peace offering to the sites whose content I scrape. If those particular publishers don't wish to accept my offering, I have no problem with it going back to improving Readability or being put towards a charity. Although, If I find out they are making illegal bets with it... >:(
Regardless, my original opinion still remains largely unchanged. I haven't read a negative story from anyone outside the Mac/5by5 blogosphere.