Duncan Riley> The debate on RSS advertising is emerging again following recent trials by Google Adsense at entering the RSS advertising market, most notable the testing currently taking place across Jason Calacanis’ WeblogsInc Network.
Blog God Dave Winer stands in one corner, arguing against advertising in RSS feed on the basis that it spoils there usability and appearance, writing that “Basically it’s bad economics to spoil a good thing for a couple of incremental bucks today, for zero total bucks later. I get branded a “utopian” for this, which is the way it goes.”
In the other corner Jason Calacanis of WeblogsInc argues that the ability to display RSS ads allows bloggers and content providers the ability to provide free full feeds, where as previously there was a reluctance to do so, and that the inclusion of the ads also restrict the growing practice of content stealing using RSS feeds.
Both are right. RSS advertising, particularly if done wrong has the ability to stifle RSS use. However, the provision of full RSS feeds does not make economic sense by those seeking to make a living from the creation of content.
So what do bloggers do?
Me, I’m doing absolutely nothing in relation to RSS advertising at the moment. Although I’m looking at creating a minature version of WeblogsInc, and naturally part of this will be making money, money isn’t everything. I’d rather provide a feed without advertising at this stage because quite simply I want to, and if that’s the way people like to read the Blog Herald, Im happy to provide it.
If the content is good enough I believe that people will visit the site anyway. I do recognise however that the way RSS aggregators work is that the sites traffic/ readership is under-reported due to people reading the RSS feeds from sites such as Bloglines. Whilst in the early days everyone polled the feed individually, today hundred of readers (over 4 feeds…I need to get this number down) read the Blog Herald through Bloglines who polls (reads) the feed for all of them and as a consequence the number of readers doesn’t show up in the sites stats.
I also don’t like RSS ads. Aside from an initial click test I cant recall having clicked on any RSS ads in the WeblogInc feeds I read daily. They are unsightly, and I don’t think they really provide a lot of value at this stage, although I know that Jason Calacanis will most likely reveal their worth to the world one way or the other eventually.
I’d note conversely though that even with the introduction of the RSS ads, I haven’t stopped reading the feeds, and I think that except for a few diehards, most won’t. Marketing and sales is a numbers game and Jason Calacanis is a master of numbers. I’m sure he has balanced that even if he loses a few readers to the feed, the revenue and overall growth in the sites will offset any small, initial loss, and I’m guessing that he probably thinks that the sort of people who’d stop reading because of ads are not the sort of readers he wants anyway.
But enough of me, these are the things to consider if you’re thinking RSS advertising
1. Will your readership be affected by the use of RSS ads?
I’d note on this that established, long term blogs with loyal, big audiences will be safer than newer blogs.
2. If yes, is the loss of readership offset by the financial gains?
3. If no, what are the financial gains?
4. Does the ad format compliment the feed or dominate it
My advice, and this may not be applicable to everyone, is to sit back and watch at this stage. In 6-12 months time RSS advertising may be the norm, or it may be proven to be a waste of time. There is no convincing case I can find yet to adopt feed advertising. If you’re considering it, only go down the path when it can be proven to be fruitful. We know Adsense advertising works, but we don’t know yet about RSS advertising.
As always, I’d welcome your comments, I could be totally wrong on this one, but I’m yet to be convinced otherwise.