Why Full Text Feeds Actually Increase Page Views (The Freakonomics Explanation)

Last week, the Freakonomics blog got some extra attention by moving the blog to the NY Times. Of course, the blog had been in support of the immensely popular Freakonomics book, but the blog has taken on a life of its own. What was interesting was how people reacted to the news. While there were a few congratulations thrown in, the vast majority of the comments on the blog when the news broke was to complain about the NY Times' decision to switch the RSS feed from full text to partial text, where anyone who wanted to read the whole thing would have to click through. This has kicked off yet another round in the debate with some thoughtful discussions about full vs. partial feeds. Techdirt, of course, offers full feeds and always has. This means that plenty of people who read this site absolutely never visit the site. We're fine with that for a variety of reasons (one of which being that our business model isn't dependent on page views or ad impressions).

However, in our experience, full text feeds actually does lead to more page views, though understanding why is a little more involved. Full text feeds makes the reading process much easier. It means it's that much more likely that someone reads the full piece and actually understands what's being said -- which makes it much, much, much more likely that they'll then forward it on to someone else, or blog about it themselves, or post it to Digg or Reddit or Slashdot or Fark or any other such thing -- and that generates more traffic and interest and page views from new readers, who we hope subscribe to the RSS feed and become regular readers as well. The whole idea is that by making it easier and easier for anyone to read and fully grasp our content, the more likely they are to spread it via word of mouth, and that tends to lead to much greater adoption than by limiting what we give to our readers and begging them to come to our site if they want to read more than a sentence or two. So, while many people claim that partial feeds are needed to increase page views where ads are hosted, our experience has shown that full text feeds actually do a great deal to increase actual page views on the site by encouraging more usage. It's the same thing that we've talked about in other areas of the content industry. Taking value away from users to try to force a specific action is almost always going to be less desirable than providing people what they want. So while Dubner and Levitt may have to argue with the NYTimes beancounters who will claim that partial feeds will increase revenue, they may want to use the lessons they learned from their own book to recognize that the opposite may be true. Full feeds can actually drive more traffic overall.

(Via Techdirt.)