Why are newspapers hiding their niche content?

You may know that I run a Formula 1 blog called vee8. It’s just one of a number of websites I am now running. It’s a lot to have on my plate and recently I have been looking at ways to save time.

Last week I asked my readers if they thought I should continue with the daily roundup of F1 links. I was bowled over by the overwhelmingly positive response. But I was still unsure about constantly using the same few sources all the time.

Websites dedicated to Formula 1 tend to be very good for day-to-day gossip and news. They have a very good feel for what is going on generally in the F1 world. But occasionally a major media company, which doesn’t necessarily churn out a great deal of F1 content, will get a big scoop. In fact, I can’t think of a quality or mid-market newspaper which doesn’t, from time to time, have interesting stories that the dedicated F1 sites have missed.

In an attempt to try and catch these stories before reading them elsewhere, but without getting overwhelmed with boring, samey or irrelevant stories, I decided to try and construct a Yahoo! Pipe. My idea was to pull in the F1 feeds from a wide variety of media websites, but filtering out stories containing words like ‘Hamilton’ or ‘Button’ so that I didn’t get overloaded with nationalistic puff-pieces.

Unfortunately, this is proving difficult. Most media websites are simply unwilling to supply me with the content I want. Honourable exceptions are guardian.co.uk (which even has a feed dedicated to Lewis Hamilton, for all your stalker needs), the Telegraph and (amazingly) the Daily Express. Other websites’ approaches towards RSS are disappointing.

Times Online doesn’t appear to have a dedicated Formula 1 or motorsport feed. It has a Sport feed. Confusingly, rugby and tennis get their own feeds. But no other sport does — not even football. The rationale behind this isn’t very clear, and having seen that two sports do have their own feeds, I feel like going on the hunt for the others. But they aren’t there. Strangely, the rugby and tennis feeds are displayed completely separately, not as a sub-category of sport.

FT.com doesn’t have any sport feeds at all. I suppose that is understandable in a sense, as the FT is due to cut back its already rather scant sports coverage. But it does mean that I will miss out on the F1 stories it does have from time to time.

The Daily Mail website lumps Formula 1 content in the ‘other sports’ section. This has its own RSS feed, but unfortunately it is shared with tennis, horse racing and, er, yet more ‘other sports’. I somehow doubt that fans of any of these sports will find this RSS feed particularly useful, unless by some fluke they are a fan of all of them.

Daily Mail RSS feeds The paper is, however, happy to cater for the niche needs of football fans. 28 separate football clubs have their own RSS feed. More creepily, the Daily Mail offers dedicated RSS feeds containing the latest news on a number of different celebrities, for the stalker in you. Quite good for stained raincoats, but not so good for anoraks like me.

These websites are surely missing a trick. It shouldn’t be a problem to provide RSS feeds for any topic, no matter how niche. WordPress certainly offers this functionality, and every category and tag has its own RSS feed. But some websites’ approaches to RSS feeds seem arbitrary at best. It seems particularly inexcusable in this increasingly long tail-aware age.

Presumably newspapers want people to read their content. But some of their websites are sticking to the old model of content delivery — chucking it all in one place and making its readers browse through everything until they come across an article they’re interested in. That was all very well when the most efficient way of disseminating news was to print it on a dead tree. But that was last the case at least ten years ago.

Now we have more efficient and cost-effective ways to get to the information we want, but newspapers seem dead set on not offering them to us. Bandwidth isn’t an excuse. guardian.co.uk not only offers RSS feeds for a huge variety of topics, it offers full RSS feeds for them. Plus, with a nifty bit of URL hacking, you can access highly specialist RSS feeds that aren’t even advertised at all.

So why are some websites still asking me to subscribe to an “other sports” feed filled with a baffling mish-mash of unrelated stories? What makes the editors of these websites think that I am going to hunt down their F1 content by spending my time trawling through their badly designed website all the time, or read through a thousand RSS items that don’t interest me?

The thing is, someone looking for niche content is probably more likely to subscribe to an RSS feed. This is specifically because they don’t want to go through the entire site’s content. Yet these websites only supply RSS feeds containing a large range of the content. For the content consumer, this doesn’t save much more time than visiting the website.

If these websites offered an RSS feed for F1, they would be guaranteed at least one reader — and then more when I link to interesting articles from vee8. As it stands, I am tearing my hair out and finding it easier not to think about these websites at all.


  1. I have a Times football feed in my RSS reader so I must have got it from somewhere. Not sure where though as I’m having difficulty finding it on the site.

    But yes, I agree on this. RSS is not difficult to set up. It’s really not rocket science to get those niche feeds (and I wouldn’t even call F1 niche) that can attract a decent amount of traffic set up.

  2. Yeah, I wasn’t happy with the word niche, but I am struggling to think of another way to describe it. There must be loads of people out there who are interested reading about certain subjects and not others — and the majority of media websites are totally shunning them.

  3. Entirely agreed. I think what’s especially telling is that a lot of papers don’t realise how, while the number of people using these niche feeds will likely be very small – and so not worth bothering with – they’re also highly likely to be people who will spread the content they find far and wide. It represents a failure to understand how the link economy works. Several sites you mention have had redesigns pretty recently, so it’s not like they should be behind the times on the technology.

    (I’m hoping that my own employers will be doing something along these lines in the not-too-distant future, touch wood.)

  4. http://www.currybet.net/ has been running a series of articles looking at national newspaper sites, this has included their RSS offerings and comparing what they offer, how its publicised etc, well worth checking out. Hopefully some of them will take action when they see they’ve been put to shame by some of the cheaper tabloids!

  5. Caspar — Yup, I’m a big fan of Currybet’s blog. Needless to say, if anyone wants a good overview of newspaper website designs, where they go wrong and how they can be improved, Currybet is the place to look.

  6. […] Never heard of the long tail? Having few subscribers to an RSS feed isn’t a weakness. In fact, it plays to the strengths of RSS feeds as the ideal way to disseminate niche content. For me, the problem with newspapers’ approaches to RSS feeds is the complete opposite. As I have written before, they don’t offer enough RSS feeds. […]