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News Corp, the New York Times and Axel Springer are backing Scroll, a subscription service from the former CEO of Chartbeat

Tony Haile’s new project is still in the planning stages. But it’s interesting.

Scroll CEO Tony Haile onstage Asa Mathat for Vox Media
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

How much would you pay to read lots of stories, from lots of digital publishers, without having to look at many ads?

Tony Haile wants to find out.

Haile is the former CEO of Chartbeat, the real-time analytics software used by most of the digital publishing world. Now he’s at work on a new company: Scroll, a startup that wants to roll up a selection of stories from a wide variety of publishers and sell monthly subscriptions.

The big selling point for readers: Haile says they’ll have a better experience than the one they have now, when they read web pages clogged with crummy ads.

The big selling point for publishers Haile wants to recruit: He says they’ll make more money sharing subscription revenue with him than they do with those crummy ads.

Scroll is a bit difficult to describe, in part because it seems to combine elements of things people have already tried. And in part because Haile hasn’t put it together yet.

He has raised $3 million from investors including SoftTech, OATV, Axel Springer, News Corp and the New York Times. And he’s currently out pitching publishers to sign up. It won’t launch until next year.

But let’s try walking through it: Haile wants to create a subscription service that gives readers an ad-free, or nearly ad-free, reading experience for stories from a wide variety of publishers.

The idea isn’t to compete with subscription services that some publishers already sell. Instead, he thinks it will appeal to a swath of readers who don’t want to buy individual subscriptions, but want to sample lots of stuff, in what he promises will be a “great content experience.”

Again, it’s hard to explain what that experience is like, because Haile isn’t showing this off yet — at least not to me. But for starters, it would have very few ads, or none at all.

The point is to remove “anything that distracts from the job I’m trying to do, which is to read that content,” Haile said. He says he wants “to knock down any single barrier, whether that’s related to advertising or not, which gets in the way of me having the best possible experience.”

If you follow digital publishing, the stuff Haile is talking about may remind you of several things.

Years ago, for instance, Rupert Murdoch and his executives spent a bunch of time trying to convince other big media companies to join his properties behind a paywall in Alesia, an anti-Google project that never panned out.

Scroll also has echoes of Blendle, a startup that lets readers buy individual articles from a wide range of publishers, as well as projects like Facebook’s Instant Articles and Google’s AMP, which offer streamlined, fast-loading articles created with mobile users in mind.

All of this sounds fuzzy enough that it would be easy to dismiss it. It’s also important to note that News Corp, Axel Springer and the Times, which have invested in Haile, haven’t actually agreed to participate in his project yet. Lots of details to iron out.

Still, Haile has built up years of goodwill and credibility in publishing during his time at Chartbeat. He also has help from co-founders Sachin Doshi, a former VP of content at Spotify, and Kushal Dave, Chartbeat’s original CTO.

And he makes very convincing arguments about the limits of the advertising business for publishers in a world dominated by Facebook and Google. Those are cataloged, helpfully, on this very site.

You can also watch Haile in action in this presentation, which he gave at the Code Media conference earlier this year. (See you in 2017!)

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