RSS advertising arms race not worth the hassle

Nick Bradbury, developer of FeedDemon RSS reader shares his thoughts on the RSS advertising arms war (my bold) :

"But despite my personal dislike for some forms of advertising, in the end I've decided that FeedDemon should not strip ads, at least not by default. I don't wish to deprive income from those who rely on ad revenue - that in itself would shut out voices we might wish to hear. Plus, ads may give some people enough incentive to offer full-text feeds instead of excerpts, since a big reason people use excerpts is to drive traffic to their site where readers can view their ads. I'd prefer full-text feeds with ads over excerpts without them (and so would Richard MacManus )."

Nick rightly points out the potential hassle RSS ad blocking would bring to the party.

But there is another reason I think the RSS advertising arms race is not worth the hassle, and it is to do with the power of markets.

To set the scene, there are broadly three types of RSS advertising today:

1. RSS ad article


Example is the Moreover feed, the RSS ad is an article. Free news service, comprehensive, it works. Don't want any ads? Unsubscribe.

Question: How could you block this type of RSS advertising within the reader?

2. RSS emebedded ad (within article)


From the Slashdot feed, the ad is embedded within the RSS article. Are there droves of RSS subscribers unsubscribing because of the ads? I don't know. I do know this: if subscribers don't perceive the value of the content to justify the eyesore, they'll unsubscribe.

RSS ad feed provides a load of feeds. This is David Winer's view of what RSS advertising should be, where the RSS feed IS the RSS ad . This works. Fine. But should this be the only way?

(A fourth type might be the PaRSSitic ad. No screenshot here, but the idea is that the reader serves ads within the UI.)

The market will decide

In these three cases, my view is that market will shake this out:


RSS ads are neither 'good' nor 'bad'. Those who monetize content have a choice: add ads to RSS and risk losing feed subscribers. Conversly, if a subscriber does not perceive there is fair 'value exchanged', i.e. content for ads, they can opt out. Easy.

There is nothing new here from the perspective of the publishers/content/media owners. They have always had to find the optimum balance between content and advertising whether it be TV, radio, print, web, etc. RSS is no different."

Dave Winer on the subject:

"If we wanted to, as an industry, reject the idea, we could, by asking the people who create the software to add a feature that strips out all ads. Make it default to on."

So to David I say: Don't bother.  Don't commit to the RSS arms race.  Committing to the escalation path means that efforts by the RSS reader software developers to develop RSS ad blocking will divert energy away from more fruitful endevours, only to be countered soon after.  I urge this not because I think RSS advertising should have some 'right' to invade, but because the market will decide what is a reasonable deal.  The email spam arms race exists because the opt-out concept is flawed.  Dave, you fixed this with RSS.  You don't need to fix it again.