J.B. Holston, CEO, NewsGator

JB HolstonGot RSS? If you’re a publisher using the online syndication protocol , sure you do.

But are you making money from your ad model with it?

Now there’s the rub: How to get more click-throughs back to your content pages and stop being dis-aggregated by the aggregators.

We talked with J.B. Holston, the CEO of NewsGator, for some tips on what publishers are doing with the RSS conundrum.

Q: What’s your take on the buzz around user-generated content?

It’s a terrible term but used a lot these days. We provide ways for publishers to give readers, RSS subscribers to their content, a complete solution — and not just providing more content, but also to allow their constituents to post and directly create content under the brand.

The newspapers with online sites are starting to let readers read those feeds on the brand. These folks now are looking at ways to give readers the ability to blog directly about the content they receive.

Now, they’re looking at ways to give their readers a way to comment, post photos, interact and become journalists to some degree on their own.

Q: Sounds great but will it really help publishers make money? Or you, for that matter?

I think the reason traditional media companies are moving in this direction is because they have to. Folks have an expectation now in that folks are going to create story directly. If you’re a traditional media company and you don’t give users a chance to actively participate in your content, you’re essentially frustrating them.

So with some of our products, it gives readers access to what they want, when they want. It gives them a chance to participate directly. What a lot of media companies are trying to decide is what is the best way for that to happen. Lots of issues that go into that.

If you’re an online newspaper, you need workflow methods so you don’t harm the brand. So one issue is: How do I integrate that contribution from folks from the brand in an effective way?

Another thing is: how much of that content do I really want to manage? If you let everyone of your readers post anything anywhere, you need to manage that flow so it doesn’t hurt the brand. It can be just a ton of work.

But if you can get your readers engaged by having them comment, post reviews, participate in a calendar, essentially, it’s the same old story but now you will be generating a lot more pages than you did before.

You’re keeping readers on your site and participating somewhere else. And all that typically is being monetized with online publishers through ads. It’s a way of keeping your most involved readers onsite rather than pushing them off-site.

Q: One conundrum about RSS feeds is accepting ads in a feed. Some readers say “ugh” to that and might even unsubscribe from the feed.

I think they’re all experimenting with that right now. You know, the evolution [with RSS] is that the publishers started to offer them about 18 months ago in response to the portals using RSS, such as My Yahoo.

What that did is that it told the publishers if they didn’t give users opportunities to subscribe to content onsite, they’d run off to My Yahoo and get it there.

If you look at sites like USA Today [a customer of NewsGator], they have about 150 feeds. What they’re doing is atomizing their own brand. They’re breaking it into little chunks that folks can subscribe to. So they’re serving the whole demand curve by offering content any way you want.

Having done that, they’re now looking at ways of keeping folks on site and looking at best ways to monetize. There are really three things folks are looking at.

One, if I give the end-user the opportunity to consume content onsite, I’m monetizing the traditional way, and that adds more pages.

Second, if I’m syndicating that content and folks are reading it elsewhere, I’m looking at inserting ads directly into the feeds or in the posts.

People are just starting to figure that out and it’s a delicate issue. Since posts tend to be fairly limited in their content, if every single post has an ad the same size as the post, it’s as if they’re getting a full-page ad in every other page in a magazine. That’s too much for the user.

The third thing they’re getting involved with is looking to syndicate their content on a branded basis and partner with other media companies in order to make money. We’re working with ad agencies, and their clients to take content provided by traditional media and redistribute widely.

All of this is happening around RSS. They’re looking at ways to blow up their own brand and syndicate it broadly. It’s to keep readers on the site but find new ways as it gets syndicated.

Q: Can you offer an example?

One of our customers is the online site of the San Francisco Chronicle, SFGate.com, which has created feeds around specific topics, such as food, travel, organized by editors.

If you think about what that editor has done, they’ve organized a bunch of content for anyone who has an interest in food and wine that are the most useful, interesting and valuable.

Q: How many RSS feeds do you subscribe to?

I subscribe to about 400. But this is pretty much the only place I go to access news content. I’ve also got a bunch of keyword search feeds so I really use this as my portal into the conversation on any and every topic that I need to track and am interested in. This is how I access it. I don’t have much need to go elsewhere, unless I click on something, but it’s much more efficient this way.

Q: When you’re getting those feeds, what about the ads that online publishers want you to look at by coming to their site?

Well, when I’m on USA Today I can subscribe to all the same content on the site. That’s one way they’re addressing it, they’re giving me the opportunity to manage my information, my newspaper. They give me the opportunity to do that there.

To the degree I do that, that’s more inventory for them, it’s more pages for them. But they’re also looking at things like inserting ads into the feeds themselves. They’re also looking at different models for this, such as syndicating food and wine content from [the San Francisco Chronicle to other places.

It’s not just the [newspaper] content they’re working with, but all the work the editor’s done to round up that information or those articles.

It’s all the work the editor has done to find great content. So it might be syndicating an OPML file, or an editor’s choice feed, and then finding new ways to make money syndicating that content.

And it may not be ad based. It may be based more on subscription models, or sponsored models. So folks are experimenting with different ways to take the best economic advantage of that because it’s so easy to broadly distribute their content now.

But you’re right. It is a challenge. The good news is you can have a much broader audience for your content. But if all you do is throw your content out there and syndicate it and let them go, that’s not going to help much in the long run.

Most everyone is trying to experiment with new ways of taking advantage of these things. I think everyone’s aware that we’re at the very early stages of a very different means of interactivity between an individual and content.

We’re moving to a world where everyone will get whatever they want and only what they want wherever they want and whenever they want. Traditional intermediaries have got to figure out a way to play in that world and make some money with it.

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