Pinterest Buys Instapaper, the Popular ‘Read Later’ App
Pinterest embodies aspiration. The service lets you create and share visual bookmarks that reflect a certain intention. Maybe you hope to be a more stylish dresser, or decorate a cozier home. Now, Pinterest is doubling down on this idea with its acquisition of Instapaper, an app that’s all about what you aspire to read.
The San Francisco-based company has agreed to acquire the team and technology behind Instapaper, a tool that helps you save webpages for later reading. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but Pinterest has confirmed that it has also bought out the majority stake seed-stage VC firm Betaworks has held in Instapaper since 2013, and now owns the entire company. Instapaper will remain a separate app, and Pinterest will invest in the app’s further development. The majority of the Instapaper team is relocating to San Francisco from New York, including CEO Brian Donohue and community manager Rodion Gusev.
It’s not immediately obvious what Pinterest would want with Instapaper. The ‘read later’ app makes most of its money through selling advertising, subscriptions, and the paid version of its apps, but its margins are likely slim. Still, Pinterest says that many of its 100 million monthly active users already use Pinterest to save articles for reading later, calling this a “core use case.” Now, in acquiring Instapaper, Pinterest can collect far more data on how people save and share articles, learning more about how people decide what they read and what they don’t. And Pinterest could put Instapaper to use more broadly in the Pinterest ecosystem, including bolstering the technologies that the social network uses to index text-based content and make recommendations to users.
“The missions of Instapaper and Pinterest are aligned in helping people save content, and we’re excited to join forces,” Instapaper’s Donohue said in a statement. “The Pinterest team is working on unique technical challenges, and their collective skill will add tremendous value to Instapaper.”
Now six years old, Pinterest is struggling with what many in the social media world might consider a middle-age crisis. Even with a growing business, it still has to prove that it will truly succeed in the long-term. The company only switched on its ad revenue model in 2014, and it needs to significantly expand beyond its core audience of “Midwestern moms,” as one analyst speaking with WIRED put it.
Perhaps more than any other social platform, Pinterest seems primed to let users buy and sell things—something it’s already exploring by rolling out a Buy button. But it’s still struggling in other areas. For one, it has yet to make a meaningful impact on an international audience, which players like Facebook and Twitter mastered early on. Some of this has to do with the technical side of things. Pinterest simply doesn’t work as well in places where lower-end phones are common, which tend to be other countries. Now Instapaper, with its focus on text articles, may help mitigate that. The ‘Read Later’ app’s mature text parser may even help Pinterest index other primarily text-based items—like websites.
Instapaper launched in 2007 and really took off about a year later, riding the wave of the new Apple App Store. This, along with the outspoken attitudes of developer Marco Arment, solidified Instapaper’s position as one of the most recognized and most used “read later” services. (Though others, including Pocket and Readability, have jostled Instapaper for market share since.) Today, Instapaper’s “millions” of users become Pinterest users, and Pinterest gets some publicity from the deal to boot. Which, for Pinterest, is good news—and another step in its longer quest to prove it’s indeed an $11 billion business.
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