Umbrella Policy

Policy made plain.
May 24 1998 3:30 AM

Umbrella Policy

Umbrella policy, by Michael Kinsley.

Umbrella Policy

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Like a regular Slate subscription, a one-year gift subscription also entitles the subscriber to an attractive Slate-logo umbrella. This is a $19.95 value in and of itself, we allege. Why have we "bundled" an umbrella with a subscription to Slate? Many people--some of them wielding subpoenas--have asked us this question. The answer is simple: We do not see the umbrella and the subscription to Slate online magazine as two separate products. The umbrella is fully integrated into Slate. (Or possibly Slate is integrated into the umbrella. One or the other.) To bar us, as some have suggested, from including the umbrella with Slate would effectively mean that anyone who chooses to read Slate outdoors would risk serious water damage to his or her computer.

It is charged (by knee-jerk Slate haters and paid apologists for our rivals) that by including a free umbrella with each subscription to Slate, we are attempting to extend our current dominant position in online poetry-read-aloud into the market for umbrellas, thereby stifling innovation in this crucial field. Simple mathematics disposes of this canard. If the umbrella is worth $19.95 (which we say it is--and Stephen Glass does not work here), and if a subscription to Slate with a fully integrated umbrella is also $19.95, then it is obviously Slate, not the umbrella, that is being given away free. And nobody in his right mind would put at risk a monopoly as lucrative as the one we have on Slate-logo umbrellas by trying to extend it into the challenging market for online magazines.

To borrow an image from our corporate parent, Microsoft, we reserve the right to integrate a ham sandwich into a subscription to Slate if we wish. As a matter of fact, a ham sandwich goes very well with some of Slate's features. What could be nicer than sitting under an umbrella, munching a ham sandwich, and reading Michael Lewis' latest "Millionerds" column or one of Emily Yoffe's dispatches from the world of the tabloids? To forbid Slate to innovate by incorporating useful new features in our product would put us at an unfair disadvantage vis-à-vis other Webzines. Salon, for example, is already full of baloney. (Oh, please. Only joshing.)

Afunny little man from the Justice Department was skulking around Slate the other day, hinting that DOJ's effort to force Microsoft to include Netscape Navigator in every copy of Windows 98 is just a warm-up. The government's real goal, he revealed, is to "level the playing field" by forcing us to include Time and Newsweek in every edition of Slate. Our chairman, Bill Gates, has said that this kind of suggestion is like requiring Coke to include three cans of Pepsi in every six-pack. That analogy has stirred much discussion about its validity. Our own view, if you're wondering, is that the analogy is brilliantly acute and totally disposes of the issue in the minds of all honest and clear-thinking people. But the uncomfortable truth is that Slate already incorporates Time and Newsweek--in our department called "In Other Magazines." The result, as the Justice Department would have predicted, is a robustly competitive magazine market in which Time and Newsweek actually, in some ways, surpass Slate. Circulation, revenue, ad pages, and profitability are a few of the dimensions in which, quite frankly, we are somewhat behind, although we lead in other important measures such as number of readers with Slate-logo umbrellas.

"The Fray" Enters the Fray

One of our most loyal and enthusiastic Fraygrants--Slatespeak for subscribers who are active in our discussion forum, the Fray--goes under the nom de clavier of Irving Snodgrass. "Irving" is an American who lives in Jakarta and has been regaling the Fray with tales of life in the heart of the Indonesian revolution. At last report he was more or less trapped in his house, so he's had plenty of time to spend at www.slate.com. (Come to think of it, Americans trapped by political turmoil in distant lands are a great potential market for Slate--provided they're trapped in a place with a working computer and modem. They won't need umbrellas, of course. Circulation Department, please note.) Enter the Fray, read Irving's dispatches, and maybe send him a message of support. The thread is called "The International Scene," and Irving's posts begin at entry No. 6718, several days prior to Suharto's resignation.

--Michael Kinsley

Michael Kinsley is a columnist for the Washington Post and the founding editor of Slate.