...When in doubt, go with the most hysterical headline.
(Rule one of blogging is that the End Of The World will be good for page views.)
Although not a journalist I am affected by what they do, usually on a minute-to-minute basis, which gives one a real incentive to have what is admittedly a fuzzy (vague, incomplete etc) overview of what they're up against.
How have publishers responded to the demise of Google Reader?
When Google announced in March that it was “sunsetting” its RSS newsreader service Google Reader, writes Robert Andrews, echoes rang out from hundreds of aghast journalists’ jaws hitting the floor.For many of us, RSS feeds have been the primary mechanism by which we discover the information we need to do our jobs - a big fishing net in our trawl for trends. As I told Time magazine, when interviewed about the then-new technology in 2004: “RSS means stories from all my favourite sources just pop into my newsreader as soon as they're published.”
And there was no finer reader than Google’s - a constant companion, open all day alongside my email. In the five years to 2009, I used it to read over 275,000 items, according to data I recorded at the time from the application, which many of us used to cobble together something like a newsroom-grade wire service, free of charge. By taking away Google Reader, Google not only killed off an old friend - it felt as though it wanted to make journalists’ jobs harder.
As Guardian technology head Jemima Kiss tweeted: “I will never forgive Google for ditching Reader. Idiotic. I curse it every single day. Have just downloaded a desktop-only RSS reader I last used in 2009 to get the functionality I need. Curse you, Google.”
But, four months after Reader shut on July 1, and, whilst many resentful reporters are still trying to cope with the loss, their bosses upstairs have not lost a wink of sleep. For all its fans and despite the outcry, Google Reader’s demise has not hurt news site traffic one iota, and certainly has not harmed a low-key RSS channel that was itself ripe for reinvention.
“Only about 7% of our article views was coming from Google Reader,” according to Mediafed CEO Ashley Harrison, whose company serves the RSS feeds for around 2,000 premium publishers including The Guardian, Axel Springer titles and Reuters. “Google Reader was just one of 200 to 300 different newsreader apps.”
That may have been so, but, with Mediafed serving a total 200 million views per month, Google Reader’s disappearance could have cost publishers around 14 million article views in July alone.
In fact, the opposite has apparently happened. “Traffic was actually up by about 5% the day or two after it closed down,” says Harrison. “We presumed lots of people were trialling other products - it then levelled off. But the slack has been taken up. Like-for-like, we're seeing a 40% year-on-year increase in organic usage of syndicated content.”
How has RSS traffic risen despite the loss of its flagbearer? Just as Google Reader was being read its rites, a new generation of consumer news browser was rising up. Flipboard, Zite, Summly and social networks like Twitter, to which publishers pipe their content via RSS, have taken off over the last couple of years as smartphone and, in particular, tablet adoption have amplified the content opportunity for publishers.
“Google Reader’s innovation had been stultified for years - now you've got a lot of innovation,” says Mediafed’s Harrison. “Forty percent of our traffic - that’s about 80 million views - is coming from mobile and tablet. More time is spent consuming more content.”
You would expect publishers might be pretty happy at this boom in feed consumption. But, in fact, most of them show a notable ambivalence toward the format. Few were receptive to talking about their RSS traffic, and some national UK news publishers told me they don’t even keep that data, which is not broken out in ABC certificates either. FT.com managing director Rob Grimshaw said: “The Google Reader thing wasn't a big deal for us.”
Twas not always thus. As it reared its head in the early noughties, RSS became a candidate as a potentially big channel for consumer news distribution. Numbers crunched by digital consultant Martin Belam in 2008 showed the top 75 UK newspaper RSS feeds had a total 488,828 subscribers in Google Reader alone - double the previous year. RSS was set to explode.
But the feeds never became the big deal some had hoped, because RSS represents a negligible and shrinking portion of total audience volume that has otherwise ballooned. In fact, just 1% of traffic to media sites comes from RSS readers, according to Parse.ly, an analytics firm whose technology is used by hundreds of premium publishers like The Atlantic and Meredith newspapers to measure traffic of all kinds. That contrasts with 8% of traffic coming from aggregators, says Parsel.y’s September Authority Report....MUCH MORE