Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, the founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, one half of Viewport Industries, and an electronic musician.

A lament for Readmill

Posted on 29 March 2014 Comments

Article illustration for A lament for Readmill

Last night, as I scrolled through my Twitter feed, I was sad to learn that Readmill — the beautiful app that allows you to read, store, share, and annotate ebooks — will be closing its doors. Sometimes it feels like each day heralds the closure of another decent startup, but I feel particularly sad about Readmill’s demise.

I’m trying to evaluate why that is. Perhaps it’s because Readmill fulfilled the two simple expectations I have for any app: it genuinely solved a problem to make my digital life easier (I could read and archive all of ebooks in one place) and it was an absolute joy to use (the marriage of a beautifully-designed UI and well-considered behaviours). As it happens, I rarely used the highlighting features and didn’t engage much with the social aspects that so many others loved, but simply having one place to put all of my ebooks was a godsend. I could open the app on my iPhone, my iPad, or my web browser, and find my library ready to read, synced with all the appropriate bookmarks. (Yes, Amazon’s Kindle app offers the same functionality, but is of course limited to Kindle’s walled garden and inferior UI.) I could even upload my own pre-existing ebook files and PDFs and have them all there in my Readmill library.

Up until this point, I was actually pretty reluctant about reading long text on screen. I really cannot place enough emphasis on this statement: Readmill made me start reading ebooks.

Perhaps one of the other features about Readmill I loved the most was the humble-but-powerful ‘Send to Readmill’ button that many publishers added to their payment confirmation pages. I used it to send books I’d purchased from A Book Apart and Five Simple Steps, and we (that is, Viewport Industries) added it to our site for Insites: The Book, which we published in 2012. The button is but one example of how Readmill ingrained themselves within the indie publishing industry, and it’s an example of just how friendly the app felt. Let’s not forget how they opened up a whole world of public domain books — complete with beautiful new covers — with their Explore section.

And so, with Readmill’s passing, I feel sad. Sad and guilty, because I feel like I should’ve done more. I should’ve contributed more, shared more, been more vocal about just how much I loved the app. But amidst this guilt, I also wonder if somehow I could’ve given Readmill my money: could a revenue model have saved them? I’m often critical of startups that have no business plan, but then who’s to say that would’ve worked? Just a few short months ago we saw the death of Everpix: another excellent startup whose app / service solved genuine problems (check!) and was an absolute joy to use (check!). Even with paying customers, the revenue was not enough to sustain them.

In Readmill’s ‘epilogue’ open letter to the community, they reveal that the whole team will be joining Dropbox. At the moment, I’m not sure how this deal relates to the closure of Readmill, but I do thoroughly respect them for writing a letter of farewell in which they explain that they, ‘failed to create a sustainable platform for reading,’ rather than spouting the usual, ‘hooray, we just got acquired!’ nonsense that we read so often. As ever, the team behind Readmill were tasteful, respectful, and classy until the last.

I’ll miss you Readmill. My home screen will feel empty without you. Oh, and I don’t think you failed at all.

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