It’s really stunning how the more things change the more they stay the same in media. Blogs, perhaps the archetypal new medium, are showcasing their feed subscriber numbers, which turn out to be potentially rife with garbage, just like magazine subscriber lists. What’s worse, just like the magazines that pile up unread in people’s homes, many blog feeds are loaded with subscribers who NEVER read the feed and probably don’t even realize they are subscribed.
Pete Cashmore has a scathing expose on how blogs can pump up their feed subscribers by getting on feed reader services’ default feed list.
A default feed, in case you don’t know, is a feed which is presented to users on signup. Google Reader, for instance, pushes new users to these feed bundles: instead of searching for feeds you like, just grab a bundle on a certain topic. This is a great boost for those sites that can get themselves listed in these bundles: often by striking a deal with the feedreader company or being friends with the owner.
This is the blog equivalent of magazines that pumped up their circ numbers through shady third-parties like Publisher’s Clearing House, which essentially get people to subscribe to stuff they don’t want. Sound familiar?
Here’s my recommendation for everyone in the blog media space — go befriend a magazine circ director (I can recommend a few people if you’re interested). They will open your eyes to the realities of subscriber lists — it can be, at its worst, a dirty little business, with lots of artificially inflated numbers and lots of false value never delivered to advertisers.
And lot’s of scandals waiting to happen.
So also do yourself another favor and read up on magazine circulation scandals (and newspapers — plenty of circ scandals there, too). Realize that the circ game has been around for decades, and what blogs are finally waking up to is as old as the hills — lots of hard lessons learned out there.