Readability holds the money allocated to a particular website until its publisher takes action to claim it, after which it get the funds as well as access to a tool that provides statistics on how people access the site using Readability. Hundreds of site owners have already signed up, says Ziade, who describes them as a mixture of individual bloggers as well as larger publishers. Tools are available for any third party to build Readability’s new payment service into its own software, for example iPhone apps or a browser.
Dan Kennedy, an assistant professor at Northeastern University’s School of Journalism, is a user of Readability’s existing free service. “I can’t say I’m as enthusiastic about this new direction,” he says. “I think that mandatory micropayments makes some sense, although progress has been slow—but making it voluntary seems less promising.”
However, Kennedy notes that a not-dissimilar funding model has proven capable of supporting media. “This model isn’t so different from public radio or TV—most people don’t pay but some do voluntarily,” he notes.
Ziade argues that subscribers will get more than just a warm glow: “They also receive a great reading tool that works across reading devices and makes reading on the Web far more enjoyable.”
Tom Simonite is the I.T. editor of software and hardware for Technology Review.