Readability for iPhone and iPad is out and, so far, it’s great. Like its web counterpart, the Readability iOS app is beautiful and has most of the features I want. Plus, the list of third-party apps that integrate Readability is strong and growing, so it’s gained enough steam on iOS to have replaced Instapaper and Read It Later for me.
A lot of folks ask why I prefer Readability over Instapaper and Read It Later, the two services that sparked this ‘save stuff in a clean, offline format so I can read it later’ market. Those are both great apps and, to their credit, offer more features than Readability, thanks to their established roots. Instapaper, for example, lets you organize articles into folders and offers deeper integration with a few more social media services. Read It Later supports tags and a big upcoming redesign will incorporate video and photos.
I switched to Readability around half a year ago for two main reasons, but the second one is most important to me. First, I like its design, from the type choices to the simplicity of its menu and feature set. Readability’s elegance feels more inviting to me.
The second reason is Readability’s optional contribution feature, which is no longer required to unlock any of Readability’s features, but is still my favorite thing about the service. You can pay a monthly subscription of your choice (starting at $5, but again: entirely optional), and after Readability takes its 30 percent to run the business, the rest of the pie is automatically sliced up and set aside for the sites you read that month, according to the number of articles you saved from each. A nice perk is that you can make your monthly contributions public (with or without the actual dollar amount), so here are mine.
As a writer, I’ve been searching for a way to contribute to the sites I read. I think we’re at the start of a slow evolution past sheer advertising that is expanding the ways sites can make the money they’re worth (or at least enough to keep the lights on full time). You can see it in sites like The Loop, Ars Technica, Shawn Blanc, and, of course, Daring Fireball, which have had success with paid memberships. But as much as I want to support all these sites, paying an individual membership for each and every one feels like backpedaling to the days of magazine subscriptions, when we had to deal with a smorgasbord of publishers, privacy policies, and renewal dates. I am a paying member of some of these sites, but not nearly as many as I would like to be, mostly for financial and sanity reasons.
While I agree with Ben Brooks that some details could be changed in terms of what Readability does with publisher funds that go unclaimed for 12 months, I think Readability is on to something. It’s like the App Store for reading, except I just pay a single monthly subscription of my choice, and it does all the work of splitting that up to reward the sites I read, whether it’s five articles or a hundred, or whether I visit my old staples or discover twenty new sites.
Even if you don’t choose to contribute to the sites you read in Readability, it’s still a great app and service. It’s beautiful and simple, and with an expanding list of third-party clients and this new official app, Readability has arrived on iOS.