A Short List of Newspaper RSS

Tom Biro of theMediaDrop.com has compiled a list of U.S. ‘newspapers’ that offer RSS feeds. It contains:

  • 42 daily general-interest newspapers.
  • 54 college or university newspapers.
  • 32 business journals or weekly newspapers.

    One online publishing industry commentator yesterday called it a “long” list and headlined his posting “Newspapers Have Gotten the RSS Message”.

    I disagree. If only…

  • 42 of the more than 1,400 daily general-interest newspapers,
  • 54 of the more than 900 college or university newspapers, and
  • 32 of the more than 6,000 business journals and weekly newspapers

    …published in the U.S. are offering RSS feeds, then it reinforces what Rich Skrenta, CEO of Topix.net, a company that utilizes news RSS feeds, reported in early October after doing his own survey of newspaper RSS feeds:

      “Only 7% of the sources Topix.net crawls have XML feeds. I’d estimate that only a few hundreds of the top 3,000 newspapers we crawl have RSS support. … Despite the enthusiasm around RSS, there is a long way to go before the bulk of this content will be available in feeds.”

    Don’t get me wrong. I like RSS; I offer a feed of it from this site; and I advise my newspaper clients to offer RSS in certain cases. But the hype about it doesn’t fit with reality.

    No data indicate that RSS is gaining widespread consumer acceptance. No cases show that any commercial publication is profiting from it. And the number of bloggers who are able to make their living thanks to using it as a content distribution mechanism can be counted on your fingers. (Or is all that evidence moot because RSS, a technology already more than half a decade old, is still too new by Internet standards? Can’t have it both ways.)

    Most importantly for news publishers and news broadcasters, RSS doesn’t yet offer a viable business model for publishers. Yes, RSS-specific advertising network companies have started up. They will charge advertisers to imbed text ads in RSS feeds. But the revenues from that model are far from lucrative, pocket change in most cases. And the fact that there are start-up companies chasing this opportunity is no more proof of viability than the amount of capital and start-up companies chasing opportunities was proof of viability prior to the dot.com meltdown.

    Is there hype about RSS? In the online newspaper industry trade journals and trade blogs, count the number of stories about RSS. Consider that as many daily general-interest newspapers offer digital editions as offer RSS and three times as many offer e-mailed editions — both distribution mechanisms that have viable business models. However, you don’t see lists of those newspapers being called ‘long’ or headlined ‘Newspapers Have Gotten the Digital Edition Message’ or ‘Newspapers Have Gotten the E-Mail Message’. This is because those practical distribution mechanism aren’t in vogue among the people writing industry trade journals and trade blogs.

    The reporters, editors, and bloggers who are writing those industry trade journals and trade blogs quite naturally believe what most reporters, editors, and bloggers believe — that any newfound distribution mechanism is good because it can disseminate their content. They believe that their content should be distributed all the ways that it can. It’s a fine sentiment.

    In reality, however, the readers who subcribe to RSS feeds use it to visit the contents’ websites much less frequently. This circumvents those sites’ banner ads or other means of generating revenues, weakening the business models that currently sustain that online content and the people who generate it.

    Ten years ago, news publishers and news broadcasters rushed to put their content onto the Web before they considered all the ramifications of what doing so would do to their existing business; how different the economics of Web banner advertising are from print or broadcast advertising; and before they had formulated truly viable business plan for online Web publishing. Many are now doing this again, by rushing into RSS.

    RSS is an intriguing mechanism for disseminating content. It should be used in certain cases. Yet, it shouldn’t be used simply for the sake of using it. That’s bad business.