The five-year-old Instapaper service for storing Web articles that you want to read later has been taken over by Betaworks. Instapaper’s owner and developer, Marco Arment, said in a blog post that he had sold a majority interest in the product to Betaworks, an investment firm and incubator that owns Digg and bitly.
Arment developed Instapaper for his own use while he worked at Tumblr, a blog-hosting company, and then opened it up to friends and colleagues. In January 2008, he made Instapaper available to anyone to use, and was overwhelmed by the response. He eventually left Tumblr to turn Instapaper into a full-time business. Instapaper has several competitors, notably Pocket (formerly Read It Later) and Readability.
Instapaper arrived at a neat juncture: the iPhone was a year old, cellular data networks were widespread but often suffered from spotty coverage (especially on public transportation), and long-form journalism was on the rise. Many Web sites then had neither optimized their main pages for mobile viewing nor developed mobile versions, thus forcing iPhone users to download bandwidth-sucking pages that were often hard to read on the small screen.
Instapaper started as a Web app; iOS and Android versions followed, generating most of the product’s revenue. After purchasing one of the Instapaper apps, there are no additional fees to access all the features of the service. Instapaper also makes its service available to third-party apps, although users of those apps must have an otherwise optional $1-per-month subscription via the Instapaper Web site. (The subscription also offers additional features, such as searching and removing ads.)
Betaworks is a venture-capital firm that has invested in a remarkable range of interesting companies — including Kickstarter, Pinterest, and Twitter. It also provides startup-style resources in its offices for companies until they reach sufficient scale. Betaworks owns a significant though undisclosed portion of several of these companies, including bitly, Tumblr, and UserVoice. It purchased Digg to rebuild it into a more news-oriented site, which dovetails neatly with Instapaper’s features. Betaworks CEO John Borthwick has now provided additional details to TechCrunch on how the deal came to be.
(Disclosure: I contract for Marco Arment as executive editor of his other project, The Magazine, but had no financial interest in Instapaper nor any foreknowledge of the deal.)