08 November 2013

After Google Reader, subscriber counts largely unaffected

I’ve been planning to write this post for months now, but other more pressing stuff kept coming up. After announced it’s shutting down Reader, one of the fears of publishers was that they would loose readers, if they failed to migrate their subscriptions to new services. Some people already investigated the evolution of subscribers on their sites after Reader’s cut-off date, and it seems that people managed to move in time to other services, with the bulk heading to Feedly, and in some cases the subscriber count is even on the rise. I did a similar check for my blog using the data provided by .

Now, my blog is far from most popular, with only a couple hundreds subscribers, and FeedBurner doesn’t exactly provide perfect results, but that’s going to have to do. At least the data is easy to export in an Excel-friendly format. First, you can see below the evolution of subscribers from the time I have enabled FeedBurner until the second half of October. Because it’s a long time frame to display on a graph for daily counts – over four years – I have plotted here only the weekly average for subscribers; this also has the advantage of smoothing out some of the variances in FeedBurner’s statistics. You can clearly see the sudden dip back in 2011 when FeedBurner stopped reporting FriendFeed followers, that cut the numbers for this blog almost in half.

FeedBurner all time subscribers for my blog
All-time RSS subscriber count according to FeedBurner

The other thing to notice is the more recent period after March, when the Reader shut down was announced. The number of people subscribed via RSS has steadily gone up, with a sharp peak in June, just before the July 1st closing. I suspect this increase is actually caused by people trying out different RSS readers while stile using Reader in parallel, so they are counted twice or more in the same statistic. After that, the picture gets a little fuzzy… For about a month the number of subscribers hovers around the peak of 310 – 320; during that time Google Reader was still silently active, even if the web address was disabled.

FeedBurner subscribers in 2013
RSS subscriber count since March 2013 with moving average to better see trends; after August I adjusted the average to exclude numbers above 295, which seem artificially inflated by FeedBurner

FeedBurner subscriber breakdownFurther on, the variations get wider and more chaotic; on some days FeedBurner reports high numbers above 300, most of the time though it falls back to levels similar to March, close to 200 subscribers. That’s probably a glitch, the system is either counting some subscribers twice or others not at all. I think the most likely explanation is that FeedBurner still counts some of the former Reader subscribers, maybe in Google’s cache, which artificially inflates the numbers on some days. Leaving this aside, it’s safe to say that the majority of subscribers have transitioned from Google Reader to a new feed reader, as the other articles also concluded.

Google Reader’s retirement also served to underline the uncertainty about the future of FeedBurner. It received basically no updates in years, the technology is now so outdated that it can’t even show a breakdown of current feed readers, listing most of them as ‘unknown’. And, as the graphs show, the reported statistics are not entirely accurate. It’s almost inevitable that FeedBurner will get closed as well in the near future. With this in mind, I finally decided to preemptively remove my blog feed and find other services to track subscribers and manage the email newsletter. But that’s a story for another article!

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