Remember when Readability went freemium, adding a subscription fee from which it could pay magazines whose content got ad-stripped? (This caused it to run afoul of Apple’s in-app payments policy, though it resubmitted and got that straightened out.)
It turned out that Readability’s ambitions did not match up to readers’ expectations, with only a few thousand people willing to kick in $5 per month for the service, so in November the company slid back toward free by adding some premium features back to free accounts.
Now it turns out apparently even that was not worthwhile, and the company has reverted entirely to a free model, giving free users the same unlimited article-saving access as premium. CTO Chris Dary spins the decision as separating out paying for features and paying to support the content you read (the subscription is still available, but now it’s an optional donation), and also keeping the service as open as possible so that third-party apps such as Reeder can make full use of all Readability’s features.
Of course, the goal back in the beginning was to use getting access to restricted features to make people pay to support the content they read, I wonder if the company would have taken this step if more people had been willing to step up with financial support?
For that matter, Readability originally just reformatted articles for greater screen readability, and that was all it did—it didn’t save them for reading elsewhere later like Instapaper or Read It Later. I suspect that most people liked Readability just fine the way it was, and were happy to continue using it that way (which was still free), while those who wanted that added article-saving functionality were already using one of those alternatives, so there wasn’t really any incentive for them to pay Readability for a service they already had free (or at least, had already paid one price for, not an ongoing monthly fee) elsewhere.
It also suggests that, by and large, people are not willing to pay an extra price to de-clutter the content they get on the web for free. They will quite happily use free tools to strip out ads and clutter, but draw the line at paying for it—even if the payment goes to replace revenue from the ads they’re stripping out.