Slate would like to make one thing perfectly clear: It’s not a paywall! (Language around that issue’s been a sore subject in the past.) Slate editor David Plotz:
First, let me say what it’s not. It’s not a paywall. Let me say that again: It’s not a paywall! We’re not asking you to pay for stories, and we’re not turning on a meter that stops you 10 stories into the month. Everything that’s free on Slate will remain free for all Slate readers.
Instead, Slate Plus offers extras and opportunities, enhancements to the regular Slate experience.
For $50 a year, Slate superfans will get some additional content, but the biggest pitch seems to be a general closeness to the brand. Pre-show parties at live events! Private Q&As! Ask Dana Stevens that question about the cat in Inside Llewyn Davis that’s been killing you for months! Help David Weigel decide who to profile next! It’s a behind-the-scenes pitch that’s reminiscent of some parts of Times Premier. In both cases, I’ll be curious to see how much of an audience there is for that in-the-newsroom vibe, which has been talked about (mostly by journalists) as a premium upsell for years, but for which there haven’t been a lot of successful models.
Slate Plus also promises a better experience of current Slate content — paginated stories will default to a single page, podcasts will be available in ad-free versions, and the comments interface will be better. In a sense, that part is similar to The Dallas Morning News’ “premium experience,” which also promises the same content in a more easily digestible package. (I’d imagine it’s also a sign paginated stories aren’t going anywhere for the proles anytime soon.)
In its combination of VIP club, improved experience, and keeping content free — and in its $50-a-year price tag — Slate Plus most closely resembles TPM Prime, the upsell at Talking Points Memo.
In any event, I think the key value proposition for Slate Plus isn’t single-page stories or a pre-show spritzer with Emily Bazelon — it’s just the fact that it’s an opportunity for people willing to pay to do so. There are Slate superfans whose relationship with the site stretches more than a decade. Slate’s done a good job of pushing the personalities of its writers, which strengthens those reader–website connections. I suspect for many who sign up for Slate Plus, the decision will be less of a cost–benefit analysis and more of a “sure, they’ve given me a lot of good stuff over the years — I’ll throw them some coin.” Think of people who give to their local NPR station: It’s not really for the totebag.
Historical note: Slate, back in the day, was an early mover on asking readers to pay for online news, putting up a 20-bucks-a-year paywall from 1998 to 1999. (Some late ’90s Newsonomics for you: Monthly uniques dropped from 500,000 to 400,000 with the paywall, which got somewhere north of 20,000 takers.)