A Few Thoughts on Readability and Paying for Content

I am fully on the Readability band wagon, they have created a great service for both readers and writers. My goal with this site from day one has been to keep it highly readable and to minimize the distractions. On the local install of this blog that I have on my MacBook Air I am…

I am fully on the Readability band wagon, they have created a great service for both readers and writers. My goal with this site from day one has been to keep it highly readable and to minimize the distractions. On the local install of this blog that I have on my MacBook Air I am constantly playing with trivial aspects of the site — trying to make it just a touch better each time I push new changes.

Now a day or so removed from the Readability announcement I have received quite a few questions from people and I have read some rather interesting thoughts across the web. A few of which I would like to chime in on.

Rewarding Poor Design

Shawn Blanc said:

It seems to me that the sites which I most want my 70% subscription payment to go to are the sites which are already optimized for reading on the web.

While Justin Blanton more directly said:

Relatedly, if the service gets really popular, it’s not hard to imagine authors/publishers making their sites slightly more difficult to read in an effort to compel readers to route their articles through Readability (thereby generating a micropayment).

This presents an interesting problem for the service, the reader, and the publisher. Readability certainly doesn’t want to reward people who are gaming the system by making their backgrounds #FFF and their text #FAFAFA, but how do they separate people gaming the system, from people that just suck at design?

Likewise a reader doesn’t necessarily want to support every site they visit — especially if it is an eye sore — but how do they avoid using Readability to support a site when all they really want is a better way to read the content? That is: if the site is ugly and I still want to read it with Readability or Instapaper, how do I go about that without generating a micro-payment to that site? The reason you might not want to pay the site is infinite, but let’s just assume it appears the site is gaming the system.

Lastly, if I am content provider what constitutes crossing the line and how do I get as much of my cut of the money as possible? Do I make the text low contrast, can I make it small? Is it OK just to have the Readability button on my site, what about a link to Readability, or am I supposed to do nothing?

A lot of questions, none of which I have the answer to right now. Further, I don’t think anybody has the answer to these questions except the last bit. Making your site purposefully more difficult to read in order to generate more Readability hits is wrong no matter how you look at it. In fact when/if sites start doing this I won’t be reading those sites.


Justin Blanton again chimes in saying:

My $5.00/month spread amongst the thousands of articles I read each month isn’t going to amount to much for an individual author, even in the aggregate.

No kidding, in fact the payments you should expect from this service is on par with payments you would get from something like Google AdSense: next to nothing. This is doubly true if your site is actually readable.

The fact is, if you only have $3.50 (after Readability takes their cut) to spread out over 100 sites (my guess as to what a fairly average web savvy reader might read) in a given month then you are only paying each site 3.5 cents a month. Say you have 1000 readability hits in a month at 3.5 cents a hit you will only end up with $35 a month.

I don’t even know if it is likely that TBR will get 1000 hits on Readability in a month. At the end of the day yesterday I had 16. Which if that stays constant I will end the month with just shy of 500 Readability hits, or at the minimum $5/month level I will get $15 or so — in theory.

Is that free money? Yes it is, but it would only pay for the VaultPress on this site. Not to mention the fact that I have decided to put 100% of the money I earn from Readability back into Readability to help fund the sites I read. So no matter what I will get $0 a month, my hope being that I get to support all the sites I love for $0 a month.

There is no way around micro-payments on the web — as bloggers we live off of micro-payments. Sure advertisers and I agree to a sum and there are set rates for RSS sponsorships, but those are all based off of traffic numbers. No matter how you slice it each visitor is given a dollar amount and bloggers are paid based on that. It would actually be more fair to say that each visitor is given a penny amount.

Readability is just another micro-payment stream for bloggers to try and buy some coffee with. It should not be confused with a way to make a substantial sum of money — not in its current form.


All of this takes a rather negative look at the new Readability model, but I don’t actually hold a negative view of it. Personally I think this can only be good, as readers were already choosing to use Instapaper and the like to read this site — I now stand a chance of getting a touch more money from that habit.

What I think all publishers should be smiling about was summed up best by Shawn Blanc:

I’m excited about what users seem to be complaining about. They’re complaining that Readability doesn’t have an even easier way to support and fund the sites they love.

Amen to that.

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