Marco Arment on Instapaper’s sale and the “big” market for read-it-later apps

Marco Arment, Instapaper founder and the former CTO of Tumblr, announced Thursday evening that Betaworks is acquiring his popular read-it-later app. We caught up with Arment to ask him a few questions about the sale and what’s next. Here’s a slightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Q. Why is now the right time to sell Instapaper?

A. “The biggest reason I did it is because I just haven’t been able to keep up. It’s not that I’m having trouble keeping up with competitors or Apple or anything like that. The service has gotten so big now that I’m having trouble just keeping it functioning, fresh and up to date. I knew probably six months ago that I should be starting down this road and it took me awhile to admit to myself… The product has seen incredible growth and has a very loyal dedicated customer base, and I couldn’t address their needs fast enough. It needs a staff, no question.”

Q. What types of features do you hope that Betaworks will add?

A. “I have a lot of half-done major features that Betaworks is going to take to completion. I want to have a fresh new design on the app, new sidebars…so many things I got partially through or didn’t have the time to start. The service has always been about doing the basics really well, not about having a million different features. That’s what I’m looking forward to, going forward — a staff that can keep up with a lot of that stuff.”

Q. What’s next for you? How is The Magazine [the iOS/web magazine that Arment founded in 2012] doing?

A. “I’ve been working on Instapaper for five years so far. I would love the chance to try new stuff out. This has been the only major app I’ve done in the entire iOS App Store…Now I will have time to explore more things beyond just that.

The Magazine is still kind of finding its way. We do experiment a lot with it, and it has a healthy number of subscribers. [But] that’s really not much of a technical project. The app is effectively done. That’s an editorial challenge, so most of the work on that is actually not on me.

[As for my next project], I have nothing to share at this time. I’m going to try a few things, but haven’t quite finalized which of those things will become a product.”

Q. A lot of read-it-later services have popped up in the years since you launched Instapaper. What do you think about the future of the space?

A. “There’s a new one every few months. The fact is, it really isn’t that hard to make the basics of something that saves links and serves links back to you. It took me one night to be the first person who did that. The challenge with these tools is in all the other features that go along with that — the level of detail and the level of quality that goes with that.

Pocket is one. Readability was on the way, but it doesn’t seem like they’ve been very busy recently. Evernote is making a big entry in this market with almost every feature it adds these days.

Having competition is nothing new, really. What I see hapening in this market is that there are going to be three or four players that make it big, and the rest are just going to be little, lesser-used tools. I don’t really care. Instapaper’s customers choose to use Instapaper because they like it better. The potential for this market is so big, almost everybody who reads on the web can use these tools. You don’t really need to capture a majority of [the market], or even a plurality of it, to succeed.”

A previous version of this article stated that The Magazine is an iPad-only magazine. It is available on iOS and the web.