This Time We Mean It
Like a growing number of journalistic Web sites (the WallStreetJournal, the Economist, and BusinessWeek, among others), Slate will begin charging for access sometime early next year. The exact details and timetable are still being worked out, but we wanted to let our readers know that this is coming. Yes, yes, we said we were going to do this a year ago and blinked, but this time we really do mean it. Many things have changed in the past year. The number of people on the Web in general, and reading Slate in particular, has soared (see last week's "Readme" for our latest figures). We've had a chance to learn a lot about how to make Slate better, and our readers, we hope, have had a chance to learn the value of what we're doing. Also, frankly, thanks to sites like Amazon.com, more people have become comfortable with the idea of paying for things on the Web.
We have maintained from the beginning of this adventure that ultimately, we would have to count on our readers to bear some of the cost. It is important to us to become self-sustaining--not out of a concern for Microsoft's bottom line but because that is the best long-term guarantee of editorial independence. Microsoft has adopted a completely hands-off policy toward Slate's editorial content, for which we're grateful. But obviously it's better not to be dependent on subsidies from any corporation or individual.
One premise of Slate is that publishing on the Web should make financial independence easier to achieve. Economy, of course, is just one of the Web's glories. We're working hard at Slate to use hyperlinks, sound and video clips, e-mail, and other technological marvels of the Internet to develop an exciting new form of journalism. But sheer economy should not be sneered at. In fact, we believe that making it easier for publications like Slate to become self-sustaining will be among the Web's great contributions to democracy. Unlike traditional magazines, we have no costs for printing, paper, and postage. We intend to share those savings with our readers: Slate will charge subscribers far less than weekly print magazines such as Time, Newsweek, the NewRepublic, TheNewYorker, and the Economist do. But any realistic business scenario requires that readers pay something. Like roughly equivalent print magazines, and unlike some other Web sites, Slate appeals to an audience that will never be broad enough to sustain us on advertising alone. (Right now, of course, there is almost no Web site that is free because it is sustained by advertising. Sites are free because they are subsidized, a situation that won't endure.)
There is evidence that, as the Web matures, the resistance to paying for content is crumbling. Still, there are people who continue to refuse, on some principle, to even consider paying for Web content. This puzzles us. Take Slate. (Please.) If your attitude is "Slate is boring and of no interest to me, and I refuse to pay for it," we can understand that, if not agree with it. But if your attitude is "I really enjoy Slate, think it's entertaining and useful, visit the site while it's free, but refuse to contemplate paying for it," we're not just puzzled but actually a bit hurt. Here we are, a team of a couple of dozen people, plus many contributors, all trying to put out the best magazine we can. If you like what we're doing, please think of our feelings before you say you won't pay a few bucks for it!
Q: Why should I give my money to Bill Gates? He can afford to support Slate without my help.
A: Good question. An answer is, as above, that Slate doesn't want to be dependent on the charity of any rich person, even one as saintly and magnificent as our employer. Microsoft is funding the start-up costs of Slate as a business proposition and is happy to continue doing so as a business proposition, but has no justification for asking its shareholders to subsidize a permanently money-losing operation. Anyway, you don't expect Bill Gates to give you Windows free, or Microsoft Word, or Internet Explorer ... whoops! OK, the analogy isn't perfect. But you get the idea.
Slate publisher Rogers Weed will enter "The Fray" beginning Monday to answer your questions about Slate "going paid." The thread's already active, so to make your own comments and ask any questions, click here.
Speaking of Bill Gates ...
Dear Prudence, our new advice columnist, has supplied an answer to the question posed in this space last week. (Click to read the question--but in brief, it had to do with why one guy named Bill had managed to discourage unwanted pursuit by a gal named Janet, when another guy named Bill had not.) Here is Prudence's response:
I think I can read your story between the lines. Janet was originally attached to the first Bill, and he did much for her. But then she found that he was making unseemly demands upon her, including the demand to lie on his behalf. Therefore, she was conflicted, having a love-hate relationship with this man. She was reluctant to leave him entirely, however, because her connection with him meant much to her self-esteem. So, by a process known to psychologists as transference, she transferred her feelings, both positive and negative, to you, the second-most-important Bill in the country. She both loves and hates your entrepreneurial machismo.
What are you to do? You should make her an offer she can't refuse. Make her a columnist in one of your magazines, at your standard magnificent salary. She will soon find that relationship excessively demanding and transfer her attentions elsewhere--to Bill Cosby or Bill Bradley, perhaps.
P.S.: For more advice from Prudence, click here.
We're Dreaming of a Lite Christmas
Practically all the weekly print magazines take a week off over Christmas, and last year Slate did the same. This year we decided that it would better serve our readers to take advantage of the inherent flexibility of Web publication by merely reducing the flow of articles, columns, and features over the Christmas-New Year period. So for the next two weeks, we will be publishing SlateLite. There will still be plenty to read, including new stuff on most days (including "Today's Papers," except on the holidays themselves). And of course, a year and a half of Slate is at your fingertips in "The Compost."
And in case Readme succumbs to the holiday spirit and fails to appear for a couple of weeks, best holiday wishes and thanks to our readers from all of us at Slate.