How Large Will the Paid Feed Reader Market Be?

Clearly, the market for feed readers is in transition. With only the mention of Google Reader closing, we’ve seen large user movement. Feedly alone gained more than 3 million new users recently1. In the midst of all this change, more than a few people have said, “This is going to mean good things.” But what does that really mean?

Any “good thing” will have to be driven by the makers of feed readers, so I am going to start there. If I was going to enter the market, I would want to know where the walls are. In this case, you need to figure out how big the market is. I can’t find any research that has directly tried to answer this since 2005, when a Pew Internet Foundation poll found that 5% of online users used RSS Aggregators2. We don’t have such hard data nowadays, so I set out to try and estimate the size.

I wanted to determine the number of people who use RSS on a monthly basis. Also, how they use feeds is important. I only want to estimate the people who are using something that works like Google Reader. There are a lot of people who use RSS when they use something like Flipboard, but don’t know they are using RSS.

This is more like a Fermi estimate than hard science, but I think it’s in the right order of magnitude.

Some numbers

  • In 2005, the Pew Internet foundation found that 5% of the online population was using RSS.
  • In 2010, a Reader product manager is quoted as saying Google Reader had “tens of millions of monthly active users.”3
  • CNN had 25,120,973 subscribers on April 15th, 2013.4
  • Engadget had 6,840,662 subscribers on April 15th, 2013.5

To be conservative, If we give CNN a very high market penetration, like 50%, then we can estimate that the entire Google Reader ecosystem is roughly 50 million users. This is backed up by the claim that in 2010 Google reader had, “tens of millions of monthly active users.” Second, I estimate that Reader is 80% of the total market for this type of RSS reader, which would put the total market at roughly 65 million users.

That’s not a small market by any means, and if treated right, it will probably grow, but that’s not the end of the story. What we all really want to know is what is the size of the paid market. For this, I would point at conversion rates for existing freemium services. If Evernote gets 6%6 Dropbox gets 4%7, and Flickr gets 7%8, it looks reasonable based on these other data that the RSS service of the future would get 4%. So, that means we are looking at 2.6 million paying feed-reading customers.

This isn’t going to be a huge world changing ecosystem, but there is room for one little monster to take it all.

PS: Thanks go to many people for this post. Jon Mitchell for editing. Thanks to Julien from Superfeedr, and Brent Simmons for reviewing my numbers, and feedback.

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Tagged under Feed Reader, Google Reader, RSS