Readability & the Self-Published Author


Productivity guru David Allen says we all need to get handle on our “collection points” if we want to get organized. That’s why I love the Readability app—it helps me collect everything I want to read on my Kindle.

Every day I come across articles and blog posts I’d like to read more thoroughly or even a second time. I used to bookmark these, but I’d never go back to read them. I used the “reading list” feature on my Safari browser for a while but eventually stopped using it efficiently.

Then I signed up for Readability and added a “Send to my Kindle” button to my browser bar. Now, when I come across a post or longer article than I can’t just zip through immediately, I send it to my new collection point, my Kindle. The next time I settle in with my e-reader, I have a bunch of articles waiting for me. I’ll read them before or after I get into the book I’m currently reading. This way, nothing slips through the cracks.

There’s been some research to support that the notion that the ideal environment for digesting reading material is not the web, when you’re battling ads, work, and other distractions. Apps like Readability strip out the ads, the reader’s comments, and convert articles into mini e-books, so you can adjust fonts and point sizes easily. 

I downloaded the Readability app to my phone. Technically, I don’t need to do this, but my phone’s with me more often than my Kindle is. If I’m ever stuck somewhere without reading material, I can easily open the reading list on my phone and knock off a few more articles on my list.

I think GTD-master David Allen would approve. He argues that we feel overwhelmed the more collection points we have. Reducing those points helps us more efficiently process them. In the old days, I used to have a basket of unread magazines and newspaper clippings in the TV room. That basket is less and less relevant as I find more of my articles—typically about the book publishing business—online. The Kindle is now my virtual magazine basket.

This article at Moby Lives is somewhat incorrectly titled “The Ethics of Reading It Later.” They note that for all the reading we do online, we don’t really like the experience because it’s uncomfortable. We’d rather read on our own time, in our comfy chairs, under a comfortable light, and without ads. 

That raises issues for the people who put that content out there, people who are banking on us seeing those ads. 

And reading apps such as Readability, Instapaper, and Pocket pose an interesting dilemma for self-pubbed authors, whether we’ve noticed it or not.

Many writers post free short stories on their blogs. The implication is that you can read that story on the author’s site for free, but if you want the story on your e-reader, you need to buy it from a retailer such as Amazon or Smashwords. Scraping the text and converting it into an ebook has been regarded as unethical. It happens, but it’s not worth fretting about, we’re told, because it has historically been too much trouble to do.

But if all it takes is a click of a button to turn someone’s blog post to an e-book, and the whole culture is moving to this reading model, some writers are going to think twice about posting that story. 

Others will say: Who cares? If you care enough about my work to convert it, read it tonight on your Kindle, and save it to your library, huzzah to you.

I think I’d kill to have more readers like that. But I don’t know yet what they’re going to cost me.

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