Readability is a tool that turns any web page into a clean view for reading (now or later) on your computer, smartphone or tablet. Two days ago they announced that they’re canceling their Flattr-like feature after a 12 month experiment. What does it mean for reader-supported content?
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.
Both Flattr and Readability work broadly in a similar way – users add money to their accounts which gets equally distributed between content they like. Readability considers everything you read a “like”, while with Flattr you need to actively flattr the content / click the button.
There’s one major difference between the two systems – unlike Readability Flattr doesn’t allow you to send funds to someone who hasn’t joined the system. We don’t collect money on their behalf pretending to know who they are or how to get in touch with them. Instead you create an unclaimed flattr which shows intent to send money once the recipient creates an account.
Readability took the funds and hoped that publishers of the content sign up and claim the money. They now confess that things didn’t quite work out:
* Just over 2000 registered publishers claimed their money.
* Over 90% of the money went unclaimed
* Readability has nearly $150,000 on their bank account earmarked for publishers that they cannot send out
As the comments in their blog post show it was and still is a super polarizing feature of their product – people hate it, other’s loved the idea behind it.
Readability’s CEO Rich Ziade also joined Jeffrey Zeldman on The Big Web Show episode #71 to further discuss problems around their approach and it’s well worth a listen if you’re interested in this topic. The relevant part start at around 22 minutes into the show.
Some key points I caught from the show (and that to a point reflect what we’ve learned while building Flattr):
* The use is incredibly fragmented – super long tail. Funds are distributed across tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of sites.
* Majority of publishers didn’t sign up – how do you get hundreds of thousands of sites to sign up?
* Challenge of getting publishers to confirm that they really are who they claim they are – requires dropping a piece of code on their website.
* Publishers who signed up and promoted Readability learned that it didn’t cannibalize site traffic or their other revenue streams. Instead they started getting unproportional amount of Readability funds.
* Readability has to equally reach out to all publishers to avoid being accused of being impartial. Incredibly time consuming and expensive.
* Big publishers have lawyers who need to be involved and while there aren’t any real issues the fact that it needs to happen makes many decide not to bother. The model is too alien for them, they don’t want to deal with it.
* Majority of publishers didn’t sign up because they don’t know that they exist.
What does it mean for Flattr?
The fact that other companies are thinking about how new revenue models can help where traditional ad based approach is failing forces our position that consumers want and are ready for a change. We’re very supportive of Readability’s intentions and hope they keep innovating in this space.
It also proves what we know – the difficult part is convincing content publishers to try new models because they’re consumers want them. Luckily we have a growing base of vocal users who actively ask their favorite sites to adopt Flattr.
Although it’s unfortunate that Readability cancelled their experiment with the Flattr-like feature it proves that the approach we’ve taken (no unclaimed funds on Flattr account creating bad will from both sides) is the right one and we continue to pursue that.
The challenge is clear – making more and more content, people, projects, services flattrable, getting 3rd party developers to integrate Flattr on more platforms, services and software. Pedal to the metal!