Do RSS subscriber figures always go up?

SimonGeneral4 Comments

Neville’s celebrating reaching a milestone in his RSS subscriber numbers – he’s hit the big 1000 subscribers for the first time.

Such a large number of subscribers is a great achievement that can inspire the rest of us to keep blogging, reading and interacting in the blogosphere.

Although I’m nowhere near Neville’s number of readers, my RSS subscriber figure (tracked through Feedburner) has been on a pleasingly upward trend since last September:

Simon Wakeman - RSS subscriber chart

However I sometimes wonder if there’s a natural trend for RSS subscriber figures to grow over time? Does anyone have an example of an RSS feed that has seen a real decline in subscribers?

That’s not to take anything away from a healthy growth rate in RSS subscribers, but once someone subscribes to an RSS feed they will need to make an active choice to unsubscribe – by taking it out of their subscriptions list.

Aside from a very infrequent housekeeping exercise on my subscriptions, I tend to not remove feeds that I don’t read any more. I just skim over them or ignore them completely, but this would of course show as an active RSS subscriber in Feedburner, as I am still downloading the feed.

This could represent a natural inertia meaning that RSS figures will have a stronger tendency to be static or grow than they would to decline.

There is, of course, an underlying growth rate from developing an audience for a blog and increasing use of RSS, but this could be overstated by people downloading but not reading a feed instead of just deleting it from their feed reader.

The real point here is that RSS subscribers, page views or unique visitors don’t give you a necessarily accurate view of who’s actually reading your content.

They can tell you who’s receiving it, but it’s a lot more difficult to know who’s actually reading it.

You can get a feeling for who’s reading your content by seeing who responds, for example through emails, comments, blog posts or trackbacks.

But this doesn’t give you a complete measure of who’s actually reading your content – and I’m not sure such a measure exists. The best a blogger can do is use a variety of ways to track the performance of their blog – and be aware of the limitations of this approach.

4 Comments on “Do RSS subscriber figures always go up?”

  1. Mike

    This might not be directly comparable, but in the podcasting world, I’ve seen large subscriber bases lose 30-40 percent (and then, luckily, climb back up after long, hard work). In those cases, it’s often due to silence from the publisher for a too-long period of time. I would imagine it’s quite rare for a publisher to keep doing his/her thing and see noticeable amounts of subscribers just float away.

  2. Ian Delaney

    Yes it does. Try posting a lot less frequently than is your wont and you’ll see. 😉

    Haven’t been posting myself as frequently recently since I’ve been writing about the same sort of thing for work and I can bear witness…

    Hopefully, I’ll be getting a bit more control of the blog/work/life balance before too long.

  3. Ian Delaney

    Ermm.. by ‘yes it does’ I obviously meant ‘no, it doesn’t’.

    Good thing I’ve got two English degrees, 10 years experience as an English teacher and 8 years as journalist, eh. Otherwise, what the hell would my writing be like?

  4. simon

    Mike – thanks for the comment – that’s interesting to see. Frequency of publication/podcast production must be a real driver of subscription (and unsubscription).

    Ian – you’re obviously being worked too hard at NMK and losing the plot at home! However it’s reassuring in a way to know RSS subscriptions can go down as well as up.

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