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RSS – the publisher’s Frenemy

RSS – Publisher's Friend or Foe?

After spending some time working with a content publisher and having the opportunity to delve into their analytics – web and RSS, I think "Frenemy" (a term I first heard from Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP) is the appropriate description.


Bottom line comparing web page impressions versus RSS:

  • Percentage sell through of inventory is higher for web than RSS
  • CPMs are higher (by a significant multiple – 5x or greater) for web impressions than RSS
  • Web provides more detailed demographics and analytics than RSS

I suspect the last point is the root of the first two – advertisers have little information about the demographics and behavior of RSS readers compared to viewers of web pages.  RSS analytics have a long way to go even compared to free web analytics like Google; RSS analytics provide basic data such as number of times an article is read but nothing about user location, loyalty, and activity by hour of day etc.

RSS subscribers don't translate into active readers or viewers of articles.  I know from my own RSS readership that only about a third of the subscribers are active readers and that seems to be on the high side compared to some of the other numbers I've seen.  Moreover, a typical web impression might deliver 2 or 3 ad impressions versus a single impression for the same content on an RSS feed.

It's led me to wonder whether the publisher wouldn't be better served by eliminating their RSS feed completely. 

For sure this would lose some number of readers but the high value (loyal) readers would likely go back to reading the web site and getting a more complete experience (and one at the control of the publisher, not the author of the feed reader or the feed middleman). 

This is something to seriously consider for any publisher looking to monetize their content via advertising and syndication.

RSS desperately needs better analytics and better marketing in order to even the value equation and provide value to the publisher as well as the readers.


David Locke

Before abandoning RSS, the question to ask is do you need to reach RSS users. RSS users do not browse. That's why they use a news reader.

There is no reason why RSS content can't be metriced in the same ways that email is metriced. It is also possible to just ship a link in the RSS, so that the metrics will be folded into the analytics currently being used.

Stu Phillips


Disagreement is healthy - it stimulates discussion! I'm not sure we're that far apart however...

I think your comment would be echoed by many RSS readers but without better analytics and insight into behavior/demographics, advertising rates for RSS placed ads will remain challenged.

If you are a publisher with a significant RSS subscriber base, you are still faced with low active reader counts and little concrete reasons to support higher CPM rates. In the absence of better analytics the loss of RSS readership might be more than made up by readers returning to the web site - at least from a revenue perspective.

I think you indirectly hit the nail with your last paragraph. What is the ultimate lifetime value to the publisher of a blog reader? The experience delivered by an RSS reader is limited by what can be conveyed in a feed - already rich media content has to be viewed by clicking through to the site because of these limitations.

RSS needs some serious help to be viable in the long term... otherwise it will go the way of Pointcast.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment!


Mike R


I'm one of those lurking RSS feed readers that you are talking about in your article. I've delurked because while I've generally found your blog to be insightful, I actually disagree with your final conclusion in this posting.

My feed reader (Google reader, right now) has become the center of my internet experience. I, like many people, am already oversubscribed to blogs. There's not enough time in the day to read everything I want to. The problem with cancelling an RSS feed is that such a feed almost always will fall off my radar. I may plan on checking the site every so often, but honestly, there's too much to do and reading feeds is the path of least resistance. And remember, the people with feed readers will, in most cases, tend to be those that are the most technically savvy - your best and most influential readers. Also, your feed can wind up on my google homepage, something a normal webpage will never achieve.

This is the same problem newspapers have been facing when putting content behind registration pages or even worse, a paywall. Yes they sometimes gain more information about their customers, but ultimately, by taking themselves out of the conversation, they lose focus and clout.

The New York Times may be able to get away with a registration wall for a while, but honestly, for all their good opinion columns, no one I know reads them. Blog readers are even more fickle.

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Intense Brit, lived in Silicon Valley since 1984. Avid pilot, like digital photography, ham radio and a bunch of other stuff. Official Geek.

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