Readability ends publisher payment program

Readability, a web and mobile app that lets users save content to read later, is ending the publisher payment program it launched in February 2011. Many readers paid — but most publishers didn’t collect the funds.
Readers were never required to pay, but they could donate $5 or more each month and $3.50 of that money would be allocated to the publishers whose content they read. Readability once offered a premium option to those who paid, but since January all users have had access to the same features. (Similarly, competitor Read It Later went entirely free and renamed its app Pocket in April.)
Readability CEO Richard Ziade explains the end of the program on the company’s blog:

“Two things needed to happen for the publisher payment plan to be a lasting success. One, a large group of readers needed to support writing through Readability. Two, a large group of publishers needed to accept that support.
“The first part went well. Thousands of you agreed to spend $5 a month (and sometimes more). But the second part proved difficult. Reading behavior on the Web is incredibly fragmented. Nobody reads from just 15 or 20 sites a month. People read from hundreds of sites a month, creating a vast long tail of publishers.
“And the great majority of those publishers never registered. Out of the millions—yes, millions—of domains that flowed through Readability, just over 2,000 registered to claim their money. As a result, most of the money we collected—over 90%—has gone unclaimed. As of today there’s nearly $150,000 in earmarked money sitting in a separate, untouched bank account.

So what happens to that $150,000? Publishers who registered with Readability get the money they’re owed. Publishers who are owed money but haven’t registered with Readability can do so by July 15. (“We need to verify site ownership to keep others from claiming your money,” Readability explains.) Any unclaimed money will be donated to “non-profit organizations that speak to the spirit of supporting reading and writing” (first up: 826 Valencia and Knowbility).
Reaction to the end of the program is mixed:

  • One commenter calls it “a sleazy business model,” saying, “I never gave you permission to collect money on my behalf, and you made it Opt-In for me to hand over my contact information to you in order to collect any of it – something I do not want to do.”
  • A publisher who did sign up says, “I was always skeptical of the model, but I don’t mind paying a fee for an excellent service, or for excellent content from the publishers. Keep up the great work. And brace yourselves for the continual shitstorm that’s just started here.”