It made us angry to see great products like Google Reader shut down for no good reason. It was frightening when we heard The Old Reader might have to close its doors.
It’s easy to shrug your shoulders and just hope that there will always be great free software for content delivery. And if you do eventually have to join some closed social network, it can’t be that terrible, right? It might be controlled by a giant Internet company, but hey, it’ll be free, right?
Why Freemium is the Thing
Since we introduced Premium pricing for The Old Reader, we’ve gotten some thoughtful comments, as well as some pushback. Why should I pay for a technology that’s always been free? Isn’t the whole point of RSS that it’s part of the free Internet? I want to explain why we’re here and why we’ve adopted the Premium pricing plan ($2/month for 500 subscriptions with full-text search).
RSS has been neglected and abused, but as I’ve said before, I believe it will be the preferred content-delivery format once people tire of private/closed networks. Twitter, Facebook and the rest aren’t delivering content- they’re delivering you to advertisers. RSS doesn’t fit that model. That’s why the big players aren’t supporting it.
Get Your Sponsored Content Somewhere Else
One of the most common questions we get is why didn’t we just bring in advertising. We settled on the freemium model because its the one that supports the service the best while doing the least harm. The more I use Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms, the more I see the subtle and insidious ways they control what I see, what I do, and what I can say, all in the name of advertising.
We’re trying to provide something the closed Internet doesn’t do- give you unfiltered access to the content you choose. The value in RSS is that it doesn’t try to make money by observing your online habits and feeding you sponsored content. But there are costs to making that possible.
We can learn more about you by building closed systems and tracking and targeting your every move and serving up ad content. But as we’ve said, ads introduce bias and distract from the primary purpose of RSS readers. RSS should aggregate the content you choose from the web, not push advertising to you.
Besides, ads won’t work. Most of you won’t look at the ads. You will do what I do- block them with Adblock or some other tool or just flat out ignore them. Advertisements that don’t get attention don’t pay any bills. Then we’re forced to find ways to make those ads effective, or lose advertisers. That means putting our resources into forcing you to watch more ads, click on more ads, or some other gambit that has nothing to do with getting the content you want.
Finally, an RSS reader knows a lot about people’s interests, but we don’t want to exploit that fact. We should be using that information to find more stuff you like, not selling it to advertisers. We believe in privacy and do our best to protect it. To maximize ad revenues we’d need to violate your privacy to some degree.
It’s Not a Free Ride
But why should Premium users have to pay the bill for the free users? It’s important to remember that this is a social network, and the more friends you have to share with, the better. Not all your friends will be Premium/power RSS users. But the more people using the service, the more great content you can find. (And not sponsored content from advertisers.)
In addition, we hope that over time we are able to attract more and more of our free users to Premium accounts. We know it’ll be a small percentage but we’re working hard to build incredible functionality worthy of a small monthly fee. Besides, I know you’ve heard the “it’s less than cup of coffee” line a thousand times, but we REALLY think it’s a reasonable amount for the power you have. If you’re a power user, know that the money we make from your subscription will be plowed into development. Real, honest-to-goodness development.
I know that there are still free RSS readers available. The Old Reader was completely free until a couple weeks ago. And for the VAST majority of our users it still can be completely free. The freemium model is important because we’re focused on making this a sustainable service that won’t be closing.
In The Words of a Wise Man…
Our goal isn’t just to keep The Old Reader chugging along, but to build an online platform and community that is an alternative to the Facebooks and Twitters of the world. I think Dave Winer said it best when he wrote in our blog comments:
We have as a community, been boring the hell out of users.
This what happens when a product doesn’t introduce any new features for 10 years! :-)
I’m talking about RSS, as a product — vs its competitors, Twitter and Facebook, which have been actively pushing new goodies for users.
We are not doing that in RSS.
So if we want to get users on board, and other developers, we have to move.
Everyone’s been doing it for themselves, and no one has been willing to go first with a new feature that might delight users, and inspire their competitors to follow them.
If we want to have a good open alternative to Twitter and Facebook, we have to do some new stuff!
We’re committed to the open web and giving you the best possible reading experience without sneaking in ads. And we’re also not going to be using your private information to sell you anything or help others sell you anything. That’s not just a promise. That’s the principle behind Premium membership.