Making the web look more like I’ve been doing it all along

My design sensibilities are being validated by an interesting trend: at least three major new technologies designed to strip the visual clutter from web pages, making online documents look … more like mine always have. Marco Arment’s adored service/app Instapaper, the new Readability service, and Apple’s Safari Reader are all trying to make the internet more reader-friendly. Readability puts it like this:

Blinking ads and crowded pages make the web a hostile environment for reading. It doesn’t have to be this way.

But you won’t need these technologies on my website. I’ve always tried to make a “clean, well-lighted place” — a single sturdy column of text, white space like fields of snow, line-spacing you could drive a truck through. Exactly the sort of layout that these new technologies are going to great trouble to impose on other websites!

For a while I had some advertising on, which earned me a bit, but I trashed it more than a year ago, and I’ve never regretted it for a second.

Certainly it’s about the business model. I can afford not to clutter my pages with advertising, because that’s not how I earn my supper. I don’t live off of page views and ad clicks like most publications. Indeed, I earn my supper by respecting readers — so that they will buy my books, like my books, and tell other readers about my books.

(Plus all the great free stuff, of course.)

It’s not just the business model: it’s also about pig-headed integrity. I’ve always been idealistic to a self-destructive fault. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything profitable in my 20s, and to this day I tend to insist on doing things “right” even if it involves shooting myself in the bottom line.

Fortunately, I’ve gotten more pragmatic over the years, and if I needed to show ads to make a living, I would sell out — but I’d still find a way to sell out all classy-like. is a great example of such integrity in action: minimal but valuable advertising and sponsorships, made valuable by (here it is again) respecting readers.

Ultimately, that’s the only way to create lasting value in publishing.