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Scroll: Ad-free subscription for news sites (scroll.com)
130 points by chkuendig 38 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 98 comments

It’s strange. Part of me thinks this is a great idea, but some of the websites are also the worst offenders of what the site is trying to combat. Looking at Gizmodo and the verge, the crazy amount of 3rd party cookies, unable to really opt out at all. While writing pieces about how horrible google and Facebook are for all the privacy evasive stuff they are doing. I’d rather support content that aim for quality and differ it kind of business model then rewarding some of these sites for being so horrible that this service is even needed. Like https://decorrespondent.nl/ or specific patreons

CEO of Scroll here. Glad you're a fan of The Correspondent, we love them too. Also hear you on the privacy concerns. The publisher contracts with Scroll require that they remove third-party trackers 'that share information with parties other than Publisher or have a commercial purpose other than improving user experience.'

It's always going to be a negotiation when you're trying to work with sites rather than unilaterally act against them, but we're genuinely trying to get them to a place where they're living up to the privacy promise that a consumer would want.

I actually had this concept in my Trello list of good business ideas. I wasn't going to pursue it since I like running one person businesses, but I'm glad you're working on it! Good job, keep it up and good luck!

Thank you! I really appreciate that

Does Scroll work if I block third-party cookies?

Update 10 minutes later: It isn't working for me on theatlantic.com; I got the "free articles" drawers and then got blocked after they counted down to 0. So perhaps the answer to my question is "no".

I can whitelist third-party cookies on specific sites, but I don't think I can whitelist a single cookie across all sites. This seems unfortunate.

Update 30 minutes later: I tried disabling both cookie- and tracker-blocking in Firefox and still saw no sign of it working on theatlantic.com

Huh, maybe that's why it didn't work for me. I allow third-party cookies, but only from sites that I've visited during the current browser session. And all cookies are deleted when I close Firefox.

If you whitelist [*.]scroll.com in Chrome for example, Scroll should work. Important to note it doesn't get you past paywalls. The economics would make the price insanely high for that.

Ahh, this is an important note. My first thought seeing this post was, "finally, a Spotify for the news!"

Would love to do it, but for a publisher the economics get super hard at this time. The number of new consumers has to be large enough to offset the drop in ARPU that a bundle would represent and publishers are super wary that there are enough people out there who want to get past paywalls to make that happen. This is the reason why even Apple News+ had such trouble convincing anyone to join.

I do think that over time more opportunities for, at first, skinny bundles will emerge but the world isn't there yet at the scale you'd want.

In theory we might be competitors, but I'd rather the world sucked less than feel smug.

So here's my argument: You don't charge enough money. It's the same mistake literally everyone ahead of you has already made before failing. Charge more money. Charge what seems like an absurd amount of money. Because you need a large pool to get people through the door. It's easier to cut prices than to raise them. Charge more damn money.

More selfishly: I can help you with the paywalls thing without cookies. jacques@robojar.com.

You're being lenient. All of these websites either have crazy amount of trackers, actively engage in accusing others of what they're doing, or just write clickbait articles with little substance.

You may not get ads but everything you do in the sites is sold. Why would I pay for this?

Totally agree. Specifically the verge and other sites that actually promote products without disclosure. Why would anyone want to pay for infomercials? Tech coverage and reviews of this type, if they’re of interest, would be from real users with real world experience and no vested interest.

> Specifically the verge [which] actually promote[s] products without disclosure.

Huh? What are you referring to?

Change has to start somewhere

I've said it before but verge is long form and sophisticated tabloid with sensational articles and a deliberate attempt to go against the consensus or prevailing view, only to come across as edgy.

Business Insider too is one of the worst offenders of interstitial ads, and their content is basically a clickbait farm at this point.

So I'm unsure about the incentives going on here. Make your site even worse for normal visitors to incentivize paying up to "fix" it?

Seems pretty gross.

I used to use a similar service called Blendle. It, too, promised ad-free news. But even though I have lots of credit in my account, I stopped using it for three reasons:

1. It had a very limited number of publications available.

2. You couldn't just read a whole publication. You could only read a selected few articles from each publication. And the curation of those showed clear political bias on the part of the curators.

3. Blendle sends out a weekly newsletter with a list of the stories it thinks are the best. It also presented a clearly one-sided view of the world and the stories available from the Blendle publications, accompanied by a TON of editorializing on the part of the newsletter authors.

Instead, I subscribe to several newspapers both in electronic and dead tree editions. I don't mind paying for news. But I want to make up my own mind about the news, and not be force-fed one ideology by a gatekeeper.

Back on topic: I hope that Scroll does better than Blendle. Looking at its list of publications, I only see two that I would read, and only one regularly. If Scroll expands to more interesting content, I'll get on board.

I also was excited by the promise of Blendle and stopped using it, but for different reasons to you: the main way i consume news is by finding links to articles on twitter and reddit. with blendle, those links didn't take me to the "blendle version" of the article, but to the paywalled version, and there was no easy way to jump from the paywalled version to the blendle version. To see an article on blendle, i'd have to go out of my way to find it on blendle, and their browsing experience wasn't especially great.

Scroll looks really nice because you don't have to access the content through scroll. You're still on the original source, and you get the benefits of your Scroll subscription no matter how you found the article.

The downside here is that because Scroll isn't re-hosting the content, you're stuck reading it on the generally awful websites of the original publishers, which are only made marginally better by the lack of ads and trackers.

I had the same issue. I emailed blendle, suggesting they write a browser extension which could manually/automatically redirect supported publications to the blendle equivalent. Obviously, they didn't think that was necessary.

Can't say I think much of their decision-making skills.

Would be great to hear more about what newspapers and magazines you’re subscribed to. I am in the same boat and much prefer subscriptions to quality journalism instead of untenable options like paying by the article or installing ad-blockers. The former just incentivizes the same crappy journalism as ads, and the latter is disingenuous.

I am subscribed to the FT, Guardian online.

A fascinating area. I've seen several people getting into it in one way or another:


The system in the Brave browser



What I really want is:

1. A friction free way to pay what I want AFTER I've read an article (I assume a base level fee to read it in the first place) so that I can reward an excellent article. I want to know that that money goes to those who made that article not all the other people at the "publication".

2. Coverage of many good articles and publications, so that I can get most anything I want.

3. Excellent search that suits me. (Would be great bonus to have a mechanism to automatically hook me up to a rewardable version.)

4. No attempted surveillance at all. (I block much of it but hate that people try this nonsense, and I note that they do, if they're really objectionable I block them permanently at the DNS. Newspapers and magazines tend to be the worst offenders of all.)

Friction-less payments is unfortunately an issue that seems unsolvable on the 'banks' end. There's no easy way for you to just one-click take care of a payment, and for good reason. I do wish it wasn't as friction-full as it is right now, and there are initiatives by alternative banks to make that happen (direct API connectivity for small payments etc., although seems like the new EU standards will turn that into a pipe dream); no standards to my knowledge, however.

> Friction-less payments is unfortunately an issue that seems unsolvable on the 'banks' end.

This is actually already solved in Brave, you can tip a website or even a youtube channel with a click (technically it's 3 clicks: click BAT triangle, click "send tip", choose amount).

> 1. A friction free way to pay what I want AFTER I've read an article (I assume a base level fee to read it in the first place) so that I can reward an excellent article. I want to know that that money goes to those who made that article not all the other people at the "publication".

Sounds like a great way to lose more publications.

How far do you think we could get with merely a friction-free method to pay a small fee to read individual articles across a broad range of publications?

I'd be concerned that if pay-per-view articles became the norm, clickbaiting would only intensify. I suppose the countervailing force would be source reputation.

Well, I can tell only for my self, but pay-per-view for a broad selection of sources will be a godsend for me, and I'll be willing to spend much more than I'm spending currently on my subscriptions; if there would be an easy way to revoke payment in case article is a clickbait , then this will ensure friction-free payment is the viable option

It seems that the OP linked to the /sites page, rather than the landing/home page. Can this be corrected? The linked page is pretty bare and has almost zero information.

The list of sites was actually most relevant to me because I rarely read those publications.

I think it's a compelling and feasible solution to the news site monetization problem. It just seems difficult to imagine users flocking to something like this away from ad blockers—which improve daily (and are mostly free).

There's been a bunch of similar initiatives, albeit more typically aggregating via a single app (Inkl, Pressreader etc). I've tried some in the past because I'd like to pay for news, but consider site subscriptions as deeply hostile to the www per se. But they all end up with the same problem - great early hope of accumulating more sources over time, which then doesn't happen.

Standardised micropayments are the obvious answer, but it seems to be a ship that's sailed.

If you're in the Apple ecosystem, Apple News Plus isn't too bad. If you read a lot, it's pennies or less per article.

Apple's added a good number of publications since it launched, and I get more value out of it than I used to. But it's still trying to find its sea legs.

I've had no Apple devices for a couple of years, but in Australia at least its newspaper coverage is pretty much limited to News Corp. That'd be a nonstarter for me. Though that's based on what I read during the Aus launch. It may have expanded since.

I wish Apple would make Apple News available outside their own ecosystem. I would probably subscribe to it if they did.

Yeah I don't see the appeal here. I do however. see value in a service like this that would allow accessing paid content from multiple news sites - like a netflix or spotify of paywalled news. I still don't think I'd buy it unless I was flush with cash, but I think more people would be interested in that.

I was really excited about Scroll when I first heard about it, but after I looked into it more I lost almost all interest. I was looking at it almost a month ago, so it may have changed a bit since then, but at the time, the main things were that:

1. Even though almost all of the material about Scroll says "300+ sites supported", it's actually about 30 sites, mostly from the same few networks, and 304 "SBNation blogs". This was the list of domains initially supported: https://gist.github.com/archon810/b4ec827d5fbe9e22a43ad39ca2... (and I broke down that list by owner here, if anyone's interested in that: https://tild.es/lc6#comment-4ij7)

2. Scroll does not get you past paywalls: https://intercom.help/scroll/en/articles/3344875-does-scroll...

So if it's a site that's supported by Scroll that also has a paywall (like The Atlantic), you're expected to both subscribe to the site and Scroll to get a "clean" experience. It's also notable that even though the New York Times is one of the main investors in Scroll, they apparently don't currently intend to support it themselves (mentioned here: https://www.poynter.org/business-work/2020/revolutionary-a-h...).

Why pay for the atlantic and pay for scroll when you can just pay for atlantic, or not, and read their RSS feed however you like w/o ads?

I don't know who the target audience of this product could be. There's probably 40 people on earth who fall in the venn diagram of not knowing about ad blockers, not knowing about RSS feeds, and willing to seek out a service like scroll for their 30-odd supported websites.

The problem with Scroll is we trade one evil for another: instead of ads and trackers, we get legally dubious "AS IS" clauses in Terms of Service, and censorship-laden arbitration clauses that cannot be subject to oversight.

CEO of Scroll here. It's really helpful to get this feedback, if we were to try and fuck people over through opaque moves hidden in our terms we'd lose half our business overnight and everyone here would quit.

Either way, I totally hear you on this stuff, first thing on the list is building members even more privacy/data controls so that if for any reason you think you don't trust us anymore, you can make sure that you're protected.

From there, making sure we can iterate on our Terms to make sure they live up to the best of what our members want is going to be key. We've been launched for less than a month so keep the feedback coming.

> if we were to try and fuck people over through opaque moves hidden in our terms

Then why have them in your terms at all, if you never intend to use them? Just take them out right now.

Are there any concretely troubling parts to the terms that you saw?

Well, primarily:

> Scroll may, from time to time, change these Terms of Service, including the Privacy Policy. Such revisions shall be effective immediately and we will notify you if these changes are significant.

There is also the usual arbitration agreement.

That seems indeed non-compliant with many legislations. I think in the EU this would not be legal as you have to inform your customers about any changes in the terms and if you change them they have the right to end their contract with you.

This clause would otherwise allow them to raise prices tenfold without the consent of their customers.

Maybe they should revise this...

That is found in pretty much every TOS/PP on the internet, including my own. Do you have a specific problem with that language? If so, how do you use the internet?

I don't mean that question in a "how do you even" sense. I mean, what are your typical internet habits, given feelings about such terms?

Language being ubiquitous does not make it okay. ToSs are commonly full of crap, to the extend of most of them being invalid, hence every one of them having their "survival" clause.

This specific section renders the ToS pointless from the perspective of a user, as it may fundamentally change on a whim. Tomorrow, the company may change the ToS to sell you out for easy money, throwing away your private life and privacy rights before you'll have a chance to review and cancel. Even without a company turning on you like that, you will have to actively monitor the ToS and possibly cancel your service with a moments notice.

After all, only some changes will trigger a notice, and even then only a notice.

As for how I use the internet: I just don't sign up for/install a lot of things. If I do sign up for/install something, it's only if I can accept/live with the terms. I don't have social media accounts (Self-hosted Matrix/Mastodon not counted), I don't use random cloud services, my app list is roughly limited to government/bank stuff, a single parking app, Matrix and duolingo.

I also live in a region of the world where EULA's are only used as toilet paper, so that takes care of the worst part.

I am dubious that the "AS IS" warrenty clause can be enforced, as providing any kind of support or claim implies that you expect the product to function as advertised.

Arbitration agreements trouble me, even though they are pervasive. In particular for a product that is trying to offer a better alternative to opaque tracking and advertising techniques it appears to be another way to hide wrongdoing.

Hope this helps.

It does, thanks!

I use scroll as a way to read USA Today ad-free. Their content is pretty good. I also read Vox, The Atlantic, and Verge sometimes. It's nice to not have ads on these sites.

All of these sites also offer RSS feeds, by the way.

Good point I should look into that. If RSS has pictures and categories, might be the way to go.

Depends on the webmaster on each site. Some of them have embedded images. Some papers offer specific feeds for certain sections, others will only offer the firehose feed of everything. Many RSS readers offer some way to categorize incoming articles from feeds, akin to rules for email.

We tried this before and failed. It was a browser-extension called Sterling that would block ads on every site with a monthly subscription. Payment to sites would be based on the ratio of time spent across domains.

The problem isn't technical, it's that people just don't want to pay for general content. They might accept subs for netflix or spotify or specific newspapers but paying for "the internet" is still an unknown and unaccepted model. Until that changes, no amount of new apps are going to fix this.

And Readability and Blendle and Contenture and several Google things and I've lost count.

Disclosure: I had the same basic idea and I have a patent on a small problem related to it (reliably tracking visits, allowing paywall passage without revealing user identity, without box-stuffing by either readers or publishers).

I really wish they'd get rid of that persistent Scroll banner on every page where the service is active. I'm not going to pay for a service to get rid of ads just to see a different ad.

And no, the ability to share to social media isn't a "useful" service.

I realize they need a way to remind users that Scroll is active, but there needs to be a much less intrusive way to do it, or else they're defeating the purpose of the product.

CEO of Scroll here. yep, it's super annoying and we're changing it to be way less so. Should be rolling out early this coming week, so let me know what you think.

I'm sure there's going to be a lot of stuff to change as we learn, so please keep the feedback coming.

There's an unfortunate lack of what I consider "real" news (I realize the definition is subjective), such as NYT, WP, Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, RT etc. I'd never pay for a subscription of "news" that doesn't cover my basic need of actual news.

And just to cover my bases here, by "real" news I don't mean that they are "unbiased". I just mean sources that will give me actual, interesting reports about things happening in the world. As long as there is a baseline, I'm happy to filter what I believe on my own as long as the sender is clear.

I'm also skeptical as to why a paid service selling news would include things like The Onion. I appreciate them as much as anyone but I don't want it in my "news" feed.

Off the shelf solution is just pulling you favorite news website's RSS feed and running it through a full text filtering service, if the publication don't already give you the full text feed from the get go.

50% of the websites listed are click-bait garbage, content free, or rewritten wire stories. Hope they go bankrupt and learn that the internet is not a copy paste and charge money machine.

Perhaps the declining cost of ad revenue has resulted in these sites shrinking their content budget?

I was thinking about doing something like this a year or two ago, but the cross-domain cookie landscape is making the idea less workable.

Also how much people hate paying for things. I recently went on a short rant about how I've never seen anyone with a paid version of Sublime Text. A lot of its users are professional software engineers should either be able to afford it or work for a company that can, and engineers that should have empathy for someone trying to make money off software

Well, I'm the one with paid version of Sublime Text. And a subscription to Bloomberg . I'm not going to disprove your point, but not all of us are overly greedy )

I wish there was a Google News replacement that only lists news sites that are focused on privacy and do not have those stupid turn off your AdBlocker messages.

There is a ton of news sites out there that need an audience. They can make their money through sponsorships and non-invasive ads. You don't have to make millions off of your news site .. maybe off a few you can.

Every time people say that if they had how to pay for the site they would use it. Now is the time to show the truth

I've been wanting someone to do this idea (spotify for news) for years. But they really need to get one of the heavy hitters with paywalls (NY Times, The Economist, Financial Times, WaPo, or WSJ).

But maybe it's worth paying just to show publishers that it's viable. It's a rough chicken/egg problem.

CEO of Scroll here. It's hard with the big guys when you get started, they tend to move slow. However, the NYT and WSJ are both investors in the company so we're hopeful we can bring them in over the next year.

Great! I wish you all the luck in the world, I’ve been wishing for many years that someone with connections in the news world would make this happen.

I’m hopeful that fixing the business model of news on the web will cause them to step back a bit from polarizing clickbait and back towards factual reporting, which I think should help reduce the polarization in the political sphere.

Blendle has them on a "pay for what you read" basis, that I really like

If blendle makes a chrome/ff extension that redirects you from the website to blendle it'd be perfect. Right now I have to go to the app and search for the article I want, and then the article doesn't show up in search, and then I give up.

even if blendle would just let you search for an actual URL, that'd be great.

I mentioned this in my separate top-level reply, but Scroll doesn't include getting you past paywalls: https://intercom.help/scroll/en/articles/3344875-does-scroll...

Ah thanks, that's a rough blow for this idea.

I worry that this idea won't work until

- Someone can prove that the increase in number of paid subscribers will offset the decrease in $/sub, and...

- The subscription company is effectively owned by the big news orgs, so that they feel comfortable effectively handing over control of their subscriber base. Similar to how Hulu was started as a partnership between a few big media companies.

Just use firefox + bypass paywalls. It's free and good.

How would this work with third party cookie blocking that Chrome is planning to start (https://blog.chromium.org/2020/01/building-more-private-web-...)?

I had to whitelist Scroll in my DNS-level ad and tracker blocking (nextdns), but that works fine. I assume you can whitelist in Chrome or whatever else as well.

Can you make a browser plugin for HN (and preferably other popular news aggregator) to show icons which sites are Scroll partners?

They say it’s ad-free. Is it tracking-free too?

That's what they claim: "It would be private, no shadowy trackers selling your data."

On the other hand they bill you based on the percentage of the time you spend on each individual partner site. That seems somewhat contradictory.

You could have an open source addon or reader app which provided only that highly aggregated data.

When it comes to money between untrusting parties no one is going to open source it to make it easier for the other side to commit fraud.

unless i'm horribly misunderstanding something, they bill you at a flat rate. they distribute the funds proportionately among the sites you visit based on the time you spend.

either way, you're trading the tracking by ad networks for tracking by scroll.

okay, so i signed up for scroll to test it out:

When i'm signed in to scroll and i open an article on the atlantic, privacy badger tells me i'm being tracked by scroll and google analytics.

when i'm not signed in to scroll, privacy badger tells me i'm being tracked by twelve different trackers.

Advertising is bad and it's good to get rid of it but you also need to get rid of tracking.

Struggling to see how this is different from running an ad-blocker or PiHole?

How can I pay with BTC or anything else?

I don’t want to pay for sites to be ad & tracker free, I want to rewards sites that don’t have ads & trackers in the first place.

So this is like Spotify for websites?

spotify without the free tier.

The free tier is what we already have.

Not at all. We hit paywalls, are bombarded with low quality or malicious ads (without adblock) even if we're paying ... it's a mess. Spotify and free streaming platforms keep advertising largely unobtrusive.

In what way? Spotify pauses ads when you mute the volume and resumes them when you turn it back up. Its ads are also louder than the music in general.

The advertising Spotify slots into your playlists is hardly unobtrusive...

Where else would they slot ads? Advertising is obtrusive by default so we have to compare relative to the egregious examples.

“news” sites

Apple News?

Nobody subscribes to Apple News+.

Apple News+ reportedly had 200,000 subscribers within 48 hours[1]. May we all have "nobody" customers.

[1] https://www.macrumors.com/2019/11/14/apple-news-plus-subscri...

How many actually paid once their free trial expired?

The Onion LOL

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