I rarely click-through from my RSS feed reader anymore. Why? Because I like being in control of the content I view, and can assimilate it more quickly when it’s not surrounded by visual distractions such as advertising. For example, I realized that I hadn’t noticed Boing Boing changed from the old format to the new (I think they made more columns, but I could be wrong) because I don’t move from my RSS reader to Boing Boing, I go from my RSS reader to the site that Boing Boing featured.
For popular link blogs who rely on advertising, this user scenario is their kryptonite. Sites like MeFi and Fark rely on advertising as a means of keeping their servers running and their writers well fed. It can be asserted that people like me who grab that content via the RSS feed are decreasing their advertising revenue, however they are not at the stage yet where this loss actually prevents them from running the site anymore. With the growth and popularity of the RSS information medium however, what will happen when that time comes and too many people read via RSS and not enough click on the ads? Will the sites shut down?
The Next Stage of Advertising
Our friends at 37signals are running an experiment to splice advertisements into their blog’s RSS feed, not as a real way to generate revenue, but just to see the viability of it and gather user’s opinions. Unfortunately, at this point 123 people have commented on that post and the majority of them were aghast at the idea of advertising jumping into the sacred medium of RSS feeds. But wasn’t this inevitable? RSS content is just another information-delivery medium after all, and quality information is never free. Remember, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
I feel as though targeted advertising inside of RSS isn’t asking much, especially because if you already subscribe to their feed to begin with, clicking on some ads once in awhile to support the site is a nice altruistic thing to do.
There will come a point in 2-3 years, maybe sooner, where everyone will be using RSS to get their information. News websites will lose revenue from a lack of advertisement click-throughs, personal weblogs might not be published as frequently because it’s not cost efficient anymore, and advertisers will be scratching their heads trying to figure out what can be done to salvage their industry. So what can be done? Will advertising shift over to RSS as well? Will content providers start locking down their feeds with only the title of the post and nothing more, forcing people to go to the real site to read the story? What’s the future look like?