I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

The relationship between Readability and Instapaper

I know it’s bad form to mention your competitors, but I’ve been asked about Readability’s announcement enough today that it’s more of a charade not to talk about it, especially since a lot of people are under the wrong impression.

Here’s my relationship with Readability:

The Readability founders came to me in 2010, shared their idea of paying publishers for what people read with their text-view bookmarklet, and wanted to explore whether we could work together. We had very different priorities at the time: they wanted their service to focus on the publisher-payment system, and I wanted to focus on my iPhone and iPad apps.

We figured out a way to work together: I’d build a white-label version of the Instapaper app that worked with the Readability service instead of mine, with no source-code sharing, and I’d get a royalty for each copy sold. That way, I could keep my efforts focused on what I care most about, the iOS app, and they could have a full-featured iOS reading app from day one without having to build it themselves. I would also advise the company, promote the service on my blog and on Instapaper, and allow people to link Readability to their Instapaper accounts.

In February of this year, the app was finished and ready to launch, but it was rejected by Apple for the in-app-purchase subscription-matching rule, which had just gone into effect. Readability decided that they didn’t want to give Apple the 30%, so the app was put on hold.

By May, Readability told me that they were not going to ship an iOS app for the foreseeable future, and were deciding how to pivot their business into other areas instead. We decided to end our development contract, since there was no reason for me to invest any more work into an app that wasn’t going to ship. Our business relationship ended and we remained acquaintances, but they stopped inviting me to advisory meetings.

In June, Readability hired another developer to make an app that didn’t involve Instapaper at all. They pivoted their business away from the publisher-payment focus and into a direct Instapaper competitor. Over the next few months, they continued adding mostly Instapaper-like features to their service.

So, while they are certainly a competitor to Instapaper now, it didn’t catch me by surprise.

This is a very big and increasingly crowded market, and there’s no reason why we can’t respectfully share it.