I’m happy to announce that I’ve sold a majority stake in Instapaper to Betaworks. We’ve structured the deal with Instapaper’s health and longevity as the top priority, with incentives to keep it going well into the future. I will continue advising the project indefinitely, while Betaworks will take over its operations, expand its staff, and develop it further.
Coupling the pace of Instapaper's venture-funded competition with the success of The Magazine, the acquisition makes perfect sense.
Marco's repeatedly articulated his resentment toward competitors like Pocket, particularly focusing upon their lack of monetization and reliance upon venture funding. Of course, although he has moral objections to these aspects of Pocket's business model, that's not to say they haven't built a compelling product. Moreover, it's one that lacks the typical friction of a business relying solely upon traditional revenues.
Accordingly, it's clear that an increasingly uphill battle against a company unburdened by revenue requirements would likely be unattractive to Marco. Pocket is doing a lot of things right and — given his time constraints — Marco simply wouldn't have the time or means to continue fighting on such terms.
Beyond Pocket and Instapaper, however, Marco's focus has been divided. Boasting Pulitzer prize-winning authors and a huge amount of support from the community, The Magazine has grown far beyond its initial offering as a small-time bi-weekly publication. And Marco's genuine enthusiasm and recognition of this fact has certainly not gone undocumented.
For Betaworks, as they turn toward Digg Originals and their own RSS reader, Instapaper abides by their future vision almost too perfectly. They've shown a dedication to clean, curated, and positive content and, with today's acquisition, they'll have further weapons in their arsenal to fight in that industry.
So, in all, the move makes plenty of sense.
I will say, however, that it's surreal to watch Instapaper — a product entrenched in a thoroughly anti-contemporary business mentality — find its way into a venture-backed company with no pre-existing means for revenue. Although Marco argues that Betaworks is a perfect fit — and I don't disagree — I am left to wonder whether the competitive aspect of the equation was outweighing the positive allure of The Magazine.
As a further note, it's odd to witness the outpouring of enthusiasm and excitement for this acquisition from a community well-known for its apprehension toward such deals. Obviously this deal doesn't have all the hallmarks of a Silicon Valley acquisition (or acqui-hire), but it is irrevocably an acquisition by a large firm with no focus upon revenue. That's not to say that Instapaper won't live on successfully, but there's an unmistakable double-standard on display today that's worth keeping in mind for the future.
Nevertheless, speculation aside, it's a very positive and forward-thinking deal for Marco. I applaud him wholeheartedly for making it. I know it mustn't be easy to let go of one's baby in such a manner, but it seems it's for the betterment of the product. Moreover, with Glenn Fleishman running The Magazine's editorial side, I'm hopeful that this might free Marco up — with, presumably, some cash infusion — to experiment with some new concepts.
As a final — less journalistic — aside, it's important to recognize the impact and genuine value of Instapaper. When it was first introduced, it utterly redefined the way we thought about consuming digital content and, in my eyes, aided in the resurgence of long-form content online.
And for that we ought to all feel very grateful.