On Wednesday, digital media site Slate Magazine announced it was launching a metered paywall to get more readers to join Slate Plus, a membership program the company started six years ago. The membership program is only $35 for a reader’s first year, following a two-week free trial. The funding is necessary to help Slate diversify its revenue sources and to support the site’s journalism wok. The paywall is a metered paywall, but Slate did not specify how many articles a non-member can read before hitting the paywall.
Here is an excerpt from editor Jared Hohlt’s March 25 announcement:
“Becoming a Slate Plus member is the absolute best way to back the journalism we do. And the benefits are clear: not only all the articles you want to read (with a cleaner reading experience) but also ad-free podcasts and bonus show content.
Becoming a member is also the best way to help us shape that journalism. We get to learn more about what you’d like to see more (and less) of, and you get to know us better, too: through special events and reader-feedback sessions and the like. A publication that relies more fully on its subscribers is a publication that serves them better. And Slate has always wanted to be the sort of place that’s in a kind of perpetual conversation with its audience.
Up till now, Slate has provided almost all of its written work for free. But going forward, we think the way we will truly thrive is by continuing to diversify our revenue—by asking readers like you to support us more directly. In the coming months, some of our most engaged visitors will be prompted to join Slate Plus in order to keep reading articles on the site,” wrote Hohlt.
Hohlt clarified that Slate will make all of its coronavirus-related content free to all readers, regardless of how many articles they read. In addition to the benefits noted above, Slate Plus members will have access to the following:
- A private Facebook group to interact with other “Slatesters” and Slate Plus members
- The Slate Plus Digest, a weekly newsletter
- Access to recurring special events like Pitch Slams
- An ad-free version of the Slate iOS app
- Access to the full edition of the Dear Prudence podcast
- Bonus access to Slate’s Slow Burn podcast
- Access to archives
Paying only $35 for the first year of a Slate Plus membership sounds like a good deal, and the magazine offers a host of worthy benefits along with their independent journalism. However, the timing of this announcement is baffling. The American economy is sinking under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic. Subscription companies, including media outlets, are offering free content or bringing down paywalls to educate, inform and entertain Americans as they honor “shelter in place” orders across the country. Millions of people have lost their jobs, and a stimulus package is weeks away from being implemented. Why would a digital magazine choose now as the time to put up a metered paywall?
In addition, Slate does not specify how many articles a reader can view before hitting the paywall. While larger outlets like The New York Times have experimented with different numbers of articles and even customized subscription packages based on reader habits, Slate doesn’t specify a number. Is it three, five, 10? We appreciate that publishing in a digital age is challenging, particularly in these unprecedented times, but this does not seem to be the time to put up a paywall. Waiting another month or two is not likely to break Slate, and it seems far more prudent and compassionate under the circumstances.