I'm happy to hit send on public beta newsletter #7 with our latest Readwise Reader updates 🙂
I write this newsletter every one to two months covering features we've just shipped, bugs we've recently fixed, and what we intend to work on next. I also share tips and tricks to help you get the most out of Reader. If you prefer to read these in-app, you can subscribe to the private RSS feed linked here.
Now that the performance refactor is behind us, we're excited to get back into our rhythm of sending these updates every one to two months. Before diving into the latest round of new features, however, we want to discuss the upcoming repricing for future subscribers. As a reminder, we never increase prices on existing customers so if you're already subscribed, your pricing isn't changing and you can safely skip the next two paragraphs.
When we launched Reader into public beta a ~year ago, we communicated that we'd be repricing at some point, but hadn't yet worked out the details. Now we have: beginning on February 18th (three weeks from today), the price of a full subscription for future annual subscribers will increase from $7.99/month to $9.99/month. The price for future monthly subscribers will increase from $8.99/month to $12.99/month. Again, if you're already subscribed or you subscribe prior to February 18th, you're locked into your existing pricing plan and nothing will change.
As one does when announcing such pricing updates, we'll be publishing a blog post over the next week or two going deeper into where Readwise has been and where it's going. For some quick background, we haven't altered pricing since 2018 when we first started charging five years ago. Since then, we've added hundreds of features to Readwise and a whole new product in Reader. As a bootstrapped company that's never raised venture capital, a pricing adjustment at least every half-decade or so – for future subscribers only, with no change to existing subscribers – is part of how we'll keep building the most powerful reading software for the long-term.
Speaking of the long-term, 2024 is poised to be another exciting year of updates with some surprises on the horizon. More on that in future emails.
Onto this edition's product updates:
- 📜 Pagination – You can now read documents laid out as pages rather than as continuous scroll, which is particularly delightful on ebooks and long-form content as well as tablet devices.
- 💰 Bundles – Experimental: You can now create and share custom collections of documents with others enabling a variety of collaborative use cases. Here's an example bundle of some blog posts I wrote on a yearlong around the world sabbatical: Dan & Meghan go on a sabbatical.
- 📧 Custom Email Addresses – You can now customize your Reader email alias making it easier to remember and subscribe to newsletters.
- 💻 Windows App – You can install Reader as a desktop app not only on Mac but now also on Windows (download link).
- 🤏 Exportable Summaries – You can now export AI-generated summaries to Notion, Roam Research, Obsidian, Logseq, and Markdown.
You can now read with pages in the iOS and Android apps. Because Reader is an all-in-one reading application supporting a variety of formats, pagination is a per-document setting. You can find this toggle as well as options for global defaults in the Appearance panel. Once enabled, you navigate page-by-page by tapping in the left and right margins or swiping up and down.
You might have noticed I wrote "up and down" rather than "left and right" implying that we've broken convention and arranged the pages in a vertical rather than horizontal layout. Much thought went into this decision, which I share below. If you're into product and UX philosophy, buckle up. Otherwise, you might want to skip ahead.
As a technologist, you're probably familiar with the concept of skeuomorphism. As we humans replace existing technologies with new, we often ease the transition by preserving ornamental design cues from the incumbent technology even though those cues no longer serve any practical function in the new system. Famous examples in software include the ring binding designed into early calendar apps, the knobs and dials designed into media players, and the shutter click sound effect of camera phones.
One might naturally think that "pagination" in reading software – the division of a digital document into discrete pages enabling the text to be navigated in a manner similar to flipping pages of a paper book – is also an example of skeuomorphism. Faux pages in software remind us of real pages in meatspace, the argument goes, but they're fundamentally as necessary as wood paneling on a PT Cruiser. Even word processors like Google Docs, which were built on the assumption that the final output would be printed to paper pages, have now adopted "pageless" views as their defaults.
As we've now come to appreciate, pagination in reading software is very much not skeuomorphic. Instead, pagination possesses some enduring utility that makes it an essential feature of any serious reading application. This is not to say that all digital reading should be paginated. Its continuous scroll corollary has a time and place too. But some reading for some people is simply better with pages.
First, continuous scrolling requires constant tapping of the touchscreen. This is fine if you're skimming along the surface of some short-form article published to the web. But such constant tapping can also interfere with deeper forms of reading. Navigating via pages, on the other hand, significantly reduces the number of screen touches required to cover the same quantity of text.
Second, continuous scrolling requires constant refocusing of your gaze. Said differently, you often lose your place when scrolling because the text moves. Discrete pages, on the other hand, enable your eyes to sweep in a steady pattern starting in the top left and working down to bottom right. This establishes a rhythm, which in turn translates to reading flow.
Finally, for reasons beyond the scope of this newsletter, analog paper books are not going away the same way digital media replaced CDs and DVDs. As such, anyone who cares about reading enough to use Readwise comes to us with deeply ingrained muscle memory of reading pages in physical books. As toolmakers, we must craft tools that work with rather than against those training adaptations.
All this being said, we did come to realize that there is one aspect of skeuomorphism found in the conventional implementations of pagination such as Amazon Kindle and Apple Books. This would be the horizontal layout. After grappling with the UX of pagination for months, we concluded there's no solid explanation, other than it feels familiar, for why digital pages must flip left-to-right rather than vertically.
All else equal, "feeling familiar" would be a very good reason – nay, the right reason – to stick with convention. However, horizontal pagination breaks some functionality that's quite important to both us and our users: highlighting. Anyone who's ever made a cross-page highlight on Kindle knows exactly what I'm talking about. You start a highlight on the bottom of a page, move your finger to a finicky touch zone in the bottom right corner where you wait and wiggle until the page flips, and then frantically drag your finger to the top left to resume the highlight.
Plainly speaking, this UX sucks.
After weeks of attempting various forms of horizontal pagination that wouldn't suck, Artem went renegade and built a version of the app where the pages were navigated vertically, up-and-down. In this experiment, the pagination would temporarily disappear when making a cross-page highlight enabling continuous, unbroken text selection.
Vigorous debate ensued, but ultimately the advantages of this unconventional approach were too significant to deny. In addition to solving cross-page highlighting, this vertical layout preserves the existing swipe gestures to back out of the document and to open the left and right side panels. With horizontal pagination, these gestures would have been hijacked to turn pages.
We're still labeling Paged Scroll as a "beta" feature in the app because despite hundreds of hours of internal QA on every document type and device we could get our hands on, we know from experience this is the kind of feature that will snag some edge cases. (If you find something, report it and we'll fix it!) That said, we're confident we'll be able to pull that beta label off by the next product update.
Props to Artem for leading not only the engineering of such a complex feature, but also much of its product. In upcoming cycles, he's going to take pagination to the next level, particularly on ebooks (for example, chapter breaks and chapter progress).
Somewhat experimental: You can now create themed collections of documents (aka "bundles") with pretty landing pages for easily sharing with others. To create a bundle, first save a filtered view in the web app, click the down chevron next to its name, and select Enable public link. You can optionally add a description and a cover image to spice up the public landing page. When a recipient hits the Open in Reader call-to-action, a filtered view will be created in their account populated with these documents.
Candidly, we made this feature to help our influencer-affiliate friends without the expectation it'd be something ordinary individuals would want. That said, once we had a prototype working, we all found ourselves wanting to occasionally make bundles for our own personal use cases so we figured why not share here too?
If we can get the user experience of bundles dialed in, the potential use cases are endless. Here are some examples:
New hire onboarding – Whenever we onboard a new team member to our company, we like to give them some personalized reading that'll help them up the learning curve. We were doing this in Notion, but it was quite janky the way different types of documents from web articles, to PDFs, to YouTube videos were handled. With bundles, the onboarding collections are easy to make and easy to read. This is perhaps our favorite, immediate use case for bundles, which we recommend to anyone who loves Reader and is responsible for hiring and training new colleagues. It's also a small foray into B2B teams-based workflows. (I'm not sharing an example here because our onboarding bundles contain proprietary internal docs 😛)
Shared research projects – Also in the teams vein, another situation where bundles come in handy is when you're part of a small team researching some topic. Readwise users are often "that person" on the team project who reads voraciously to see through the fog of an emerging trend. For example, a Reader user I know in real life is developing an investment strategy around a niche type of commercial real estate serving government tenants. He's reading everything he can find on the market and wants to use bundles to keep his two partners as informed as him.
One-way sharing – I have a workflow of tagging documents I want to share with a specific person using
@ followed by their name. For example,
@tristan for things I read I want to share with my cofounder,
@meghan to share with my wife. Now I've turned these filtered views into bundles which those individuals subscribed to. This is more or less the "islands & archipelagoes" sharing UX that some of us were lucky enough to enjoy with Google Reader back in the day. One nuance: right now, newly added documents to a bundle won't immediately be pushed out to subscribers until the creator hits refresh as shown below. This is a kind of "staging" mechanism for the creator for now.
Quick favorites sharing – Google Reader discovered that their users often wanted a simpler option for sharing than having to think in terms of collections. Those users just made their starred items a shared category by default. The analog in Readwise Reader would be using the
favorite tag (shortcut:
f) and sharing a saved view of those documents. Here's a bundle of my select favorites. Pro tip: Making a view of highlighted documents is reliable way to quickly filter for high quality documents.
Anthologies – I'm often asked by new users, "How can I see all the prior public beta updates?" There's now a bundle for that: Reader Public Beta Updates. Or maybe I want to force my friends and family to revisit my travel blog posts from when my now-wife and I went on a yearlong sabbatical around the world: Dan & Meghan go on a sabbatical.
By no means is this an exhaustive list of potential use cases for bundles. If we can get the user experience right, the possibilities are endless.
In full disclosure, the typical way a feature like this falls apart is that it assumes the recipient uses (or would be willing to use) Reader, which is often not the case. It also requires effort on part of the curator to assemble. That said, if you can see a use case for yourself, we'd love to hear from you. There are lots of directions we can go from here. Also, if you're an affiliate and want to collaborate on creating a supercharged bundle, hit us up.
Props to Mati, Tadek, and Jesse for setting up bundles over the winter break.
Custom Email Addresses 📧
You can now personalize your custom Reader email address making it easier to remember when you're subscribing to newsletters or forwarding one-off emails. You can find this option in the Import section of the web and the Profile section of the mobile app.
Please note that the reason we used a random nonce to begin with is to reduce the risk of malicious email senders. Accordingly, if you choose to use an easy-to-guess alias, please consider this your caveat emptor.
Props to Rasul for making it easier to setup email subscriptions for Reader.
Windows App 💻
Last update, we shared that you could install Reader as a local Mac app. This update, we're happy to share that you can now do the same on Windows. Get the installers here: https://readwise.io/read/download.
On my Windows machine, the desktop app is noticeably faster than the web app.
Props to Mitch for grinding through the not-so-fun code signing certificate process enabling the Windows app to be installed without security warnings.
Exportable Summaries 🤏
Last update, we shared that all your manually saved documents are now automatically summarized by GPT-3.5 as part of your subscription. Since then, there's been an outpouring of requests to export these summaries alongside highlights. This now works with Notion, Roam Research, Obsidian, Logseq, and Markdown.
Please note that this update will not retroactively add summaries to previously exported documents so as to not overwrite your notes. Also, if you've configured a custom export template, you'll need to manually add the
variable yourself from the Export section of Readwise.
Props to Bruno for adding this much desired export variable.
Coming Up 🔜
- Folders – While you can currently group RSS feeds using filtered views, this abstraction is one level too low for most folks. We've finally figured out how to accommodate folder-based organization without introducing more complexity to the UI, which we're building now.
- Summaries Workflows – The Summaries Email is nice to read by itself, but many users want to go one step farther and actually action documents after reading their summaries. We're adding some user interface to this end.
- Readwise 1.0 – We're almost done a refactor of the syncing between Reader and Readwise 1.0 making it bidirectional. This means changes in Readwise will soon appear in Reader (changes in Reader already appear in Readwise). This is an important piece of infrastructure enabling the unification of Readwise into Reader without disrupting Readwise.
- Pagination Enhancements – As mentioned above, there's still some opportunities to polish pagination for specific document formats, particularly ebooks. For example, with pagination in place, we can now create proper chapter breaks and display progress on a chapter rather than whole document level. There's a handful of these finishing touches we'll be working on.
- Text-to-Speech Enhancements – Like pagination, there's a bunch of small enhancements to text-to-speech that are overdue such as reading the title and author at the beginning of a document, little sound effects, playlisting, and so forth. As a larger initiative, we're also adding text-to-speech to the web app. Who would have thought so many people listen to documents on their laptops?
Minor Improvements 🦐
- Bruno finished a new version of the Notion integration built on top of Notion's official public API. For context, we created a highlight export to Notion years before they offered a public API, and it's taken a while for their API to incorporate all the functionality we need to not go backwards. We're seeking testers before releasing this to everyone. If you'd like to test, please let us know!
- Hannes added a new document-level prompt to Ghostreader: Highlight the document. The large language model will create highlights on your behalf. Why on earth would someone want this? More on that to come.
- Arek added even smaller font sizes to the iOS and Android apps.
- Hannes added an option to toggle off automatic GPT summarization to the Integrations page.
- Hannes fixed automatic summarization to work consistently on PDFs.
- Bruno added the ability to disconnect export integrations from the Export page.
- Mati added a new “Currently Reading” option as the screen to open Reader by default.
- Adam improved the loading speed of the Home screen across platforms.
Bug Fixes 🐛
- Fixed bug where new highlights on web would flicker and sometimes focus incorrectly.
- Fixed bug where search results were often incomplete.
- Fixed bug where highlighting YouTube videos wasn't working correctly.
- Fixed bug where finding text inside of a PDF wasn't working on mobile.
- Fixed bug where the web app would sometimes slow down.
- Fixed bug where filtered views matching on
domain were failing.
- Fixed bug where the summaries email was resurfacing previously saved documents incorrectly.
- Fixed bug where the summaries email was including failed summaries.
- Fixed bug where emails with large attachments weren't being properly saved.
- Fixed bug where Daily Digests stopped appearing in the web app as filtered views.
- Fixed bug where the mobile app would sometimes stop syncing new changes.
- Fixed bug where the icons would overflow on the iPad share sheet menu.
- Fixed bug where saving tweets via the Safari extension wasn't working.
- Improved the icon for the Safari extension to match Safari’s aesthetic.
- Fixed bug where some EPUB files weren't uploading properly.
- Fixed some broken RSS feeds, including academic.oup.com.
- Fixed some issues with the Google Docs highlight export.
- Fixed bug where highlights would show as different colors on PDFs.
- Fixed bug where scrolling inside of highlight notes on Android was broken.
- Fixed bug where the Reader FAQ wasn't opening on mobile.
- Fixed issues with opening links in the Mac app.
- Fixed bug where Substack emails were being attributed to the wrong author.
- Fixed bug where an invalid filter query could show all documents incorrectly.
- Fixed bug where Ghostreader was appearing in the browser extension menu incorrectly.
- Fixed bug where hitting “delete” from the iOS share sheet wasn't deleting.
- Fixed various visual issues with the Daily Digest.
- Fixed bug where the text of an item the summaries email would sometimes escape its container.
- Fixed bug where auto-advance was sometimes opening the wrong document.
- Fixed bug where editing and deleting tags containing periods wasn't working.
- Fixed bug where sometimes images couldn't be highlighted individually in the mobile app.
- Fixed bug where filtering by author in the mobile app wasn't returning the right documents.
- Fixed bug where dragging files onto the Mac desktop app wasn't uploading.
- Fixed bug where bulk actions were only applying to the first 50 documents in a filtered view.
- Fixed bug where PDFs would sometimes never load in the web app.
- Fixed bug where progress on YouTube videos wasn't setting in the mobile app.
- Fixed issues with medium.com (we're running a migration to fix older articles right now, which should be finished within a week)
- Fixed issues with wsj.com(we're running a migration to fix older articles right now, which should be finished within a week)
- Fixed issues with bbc.com
- Fixed issues with nytimes.com
- Fixed issues with economist.com
- Improved the formatting of forwarded Substack emails
Creator Content 📼
Scarvy has initiated an official awesome-list for Readwise, including over 50 indie-hackers integrations for tools like Zotero, Calibre, Telegram, Mastodon, Blinkist, and more. For this, we are grateful 🙏
We here at Readwise are intrigued by the BOOX e-ink devices, but none of us can figure out which device to buy because the product lineup is so maddeningly complex. We asked our friend and e-ink device expert Maneetpaul if he'd be willing to navigate their lineup for us if we bought him some test devices. This is the first video in a series of reviews to come of the phone-sized BOOX Palma.
Nicole van der Hoeven
Nicole shares how she’s learning in 2024 while ensuring no idea slips through the cracks.
Astukari shows you how he intends to read hundreds (yes hundreds) of books a year using Readwise, ChatGPT, and Obsidian.
The folks at Beeminder built a new integration with Reader, committing you to working down your backlog – or you'll pay, literally.
OwnFoundations shares the four apps that changed his life – Readwise and Reader being two of them.
Sid shares five tools that will help you save 10 years in 10 minutes – Readwise and Reader are among them.
If you replied to our last public beta newsletter and I haven't yet replied, I just want to let you know that (a) I apologize for being so slow and (b) I will. I was in Mexico when it was sent, and then I came home to the busy holiday season.
Also, we haven't written a job spec yet, but we intend to start recruiting for a Product Marketing Manager role soon. We are not growth-oriented leaders so unlike most positions, we need someone with meaningful direct experience here. If that sounds interesting to you, feel free to reach out ahead of time!
Thank you again for your continued support and please reach out any time 🙏
– Dan, Tristan, & the Readwise team