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Coming soon: The Readable Internet

Somewhere in the history of the Internet, publishers made a huge left turn. They gave their product — content — away for free. They blindly assumed that the economics of old media would apply to new media and that they would be able to recoup their ‘manufacturing’ costs by charging advertisers. Unfortunately, that’s not how it panned out.

“Radio ushered in the idea that content could be free 80 years ago. TV confirmed it. The internet circulated the idea that it should be free. This is neither logical nor fair to writers and editors (and art directors)–it’s just the market. If people are accustomed to free content, if their mental price-point is zero, then publishers can’t charge much for a publication.”
~ Roger Black, The Holy Grail, Part 1

The supply of ad-space and ‘eyeballs’ on the Internet was so vast, that the value of the ad-space being sold by publishers plummeted to pennies on the dollar compared to the price of ad-space in old media. Publishers never figured out how to turn this around.

What they did, instead, is pollute their content to the point where ugly, intrusive banner ads lie in wait at every turn on the information superhighway. Caught between an audience which expects that content should be free and plummeting ad revenue, publishers see no solution other than to slap even more ads on their content and to make those ads even more ‘in-your-face’ than ever before.

Publishers have pushed this to the breaking point — to the point where their audience now want their content money-free and ad-free.

“The ability to read uncluttered web pages is going mainstream.”
~ Brent Simmons, The Readable Future

In July 2010, we posted This Reader is indispensable, calling Safari’s new feature the best thing since tabbed browsing. With iOS 5, the Safari browser now lets people just read on their phones and tablets. If the feature was a joy for desktop users, it is nothing short of a blessing for tablet and phone users who have smaller screens.

This doesn’t bode well for publishers and that’s unfortunate, but if they’re bold enough to focus on their users instead of their short-term revenues, they might just find the answer.