Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Freakonomics Guys Answer Question on Partial Feed

Check this out: Stephen Dubner has answered the question that's been driving Freakonomics fans crazy: Why only a partial feed?
As much as people like to say that “information wants to be free,” content does not like to be created for free. In order to pay all the writers, editors, photographers, graphic artists, technologists, and the few dozen other kinds of folks who create and curate the Times’s content, most of which is free on the web (and perhaps all of which soon will be), the Times sells ads on its site. But can’t they sell ads on a full feed, so that feed readers can still get all the content they want delivered to their computers for free without having to visit a single web site? The short answer is yes, they can, and our friends at FeedBurner, who have been distributing our feed, created a great business by doing so. But the Times and its advertisers aren’t crazy about this option. (Nor are they alone, apparently.) Why? This is the fundamental point: many advertisers do not value feed readers as much as they value site readers, since they believe that feed readers are far harder to measure and track. (The folks at FeedBurner have a different view, of course.)

In my response to Max Kalehoff's 8/10/07 post in Online Spin I said: The move to only post a partial feed could have a lot to do with wanting to drive traffic back to the NYT site–it obviously doesn’t have anything to do with reader preference. Since the Times is planning to do away with Times Select, and the Freakonomics content would have been prime for Times Select, I’m sure management is looking for another way to drive traffic and stimulate income. I’m not sure of the current state of ads on feeds, but if there’s still trouble with income gained from ads on feeds, that’s another angle to the Times doing a partial feed.

Another angle is that it makes it easier to track traffic. One can indeed count feed subscriptions, but if people have to actually click over to the article, it will display as traffic. So, depending on what’s valued more–subscriptions or traffic–I’d hedge a bet that traffic’s more important. Thus, only a partial feed.
(Note: the Times has not confirmed doing away with Times Select just yet--that is, for now, a rumor in the Daily News)

Mathew Ingram in his post on the matter also acknowledged my supposition. Big Thanks and hug to Mat!

Back to the issue at hand: the partial feed argument is what lots of us thought was simple Blogging 101--but the really odd thing is that full feeds also drive traffic to blogs, as Mike Masnick noted in an 8/13/07 Techdirt post....and, from my own experiments with my own meager traffic, I'm finding some credence in this, just like Techdirt.

For this blog, I find some regular readers will come over from full feeds at their Bloglines, Google, and Yahoo RSS readers. Sometimes they leave me comments, sometimes they just want to see the full post, maybe checking up on comments. I'm not sure if I "lose" anyone to RSS or not. How can one really know unless one counts *all* RSS reader subscriptions across as many RSS readers that are out there, and then knows everyone's particular reading habits.

Still, one could start with aggregating all of a blog's subscriptions from all various RSS readers to start. I don't know how difficult it is to collect *all* RSS reader subscriptions to get a full subscription count. Once we had this, we might then be able to calculate some data on the numbers RSS full-feed subscribers who also click through to a blog....

But this is a piece of data that doesn't exist at the moment. It then makes total sense for both the NYTimes and its advertisers to think what most of us thought was Blogging 101--that partial feeds drive traffic back to blogs, thus getting more ads in front of more eyeballs. Even while disappointing many a loyal Freakonomics reader.

It would be great to generate this kind of data to have a better idea whether full or partial feed is better. It would be invaluable to newspapers and to their advertisers.

Gad, I'd *love* to do this research! For now, nobody really knows what's what--and the default position of "partial feeds drive traffic" wins out.

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