Slate goes back to free...

Rohit Khare (
Fri, 12 Feb 1999 08:56:57 -0800

I have to say, the "print" edition was the best part of my
membership. Once they closed their doors, the content remained just as
good as ever, but the real reason Slate trumped all of my other zine
diet (well, Salon's declining quality and navigability had a lot to do
with it, but bear with me here, I'm trying to make a counterintuitive
point) was its weekly... Word file.

Yes, Web technology aside, what I found myself doing was fetching the
weekly slate file as a 50+ page Word file, switching to Online/Outline
view and reading it on my laptop in the oddest (offline) places... and
frankly, linear delivery for an assiduous bit-junkie like me was
surprisingly more useful than even a cached Web copy.

It's been a good adventure. And, the Slate Umbrella is finally getting
some use -- it's been sitting in the California sun almost since I got
it, but it's finally rainy now -- so lo, and behold! A Microsoft
product without holes :-)


PS. Of course, everyone DOES realize that "Today's Papers" is worth
the $20 alone... right?

PPS. Gotta love the X-ProspectID header -- I wonder if they could
tatoo all outgoing M$mail to track leakers this way :-)

------- Forwarded Message
X-ProspectID: 574650
From: Scott Moore <>
Date: Feb 12, 1999 09:00:00 -0500
Subject: News from the publisher of SLATE!
To: Rohit Khare <>

Dear Subscriber,

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Scott Moore and this week I
became publisher of SLATE, replacing Rogers Weed who has taken a new
job as director of marketing for Microsoft Windows CE. I am
tremendously excited about joining the magazine.

As a SLATE subscriber, you obviously like SLATE too and I trust you
agree with me that it's a great publication. That being the case, I
hope you'll appreciate the decision we've made, effective today, to
make SLATE's Web site free again. At the same time, we will continue
to offer our five e-mail services, our weekly print-out edition, The
Fray, and The Compost (2 and a half years of SLATE's archives) only to
subscribers. The rate for these services will continue to be $19.95
per year. In reader surveys we found that subscribers like you like
SLATE's e-mail services very much. In fact, 83 percent of you receive
at least one of these services and 71 percent of you said e-mail was
one of the features you like best. Perhaps that's because rather than
fill your in-box with a bunch of low-value, self-promoting links, we
actually send you our content.

Over the next few months we plan to continue adding features and
services to your subscription. In the meantime, to reward you for your
ongoing participation in SLATE's evolution, we will extend your
subscription to SLATE services by six months for free. To take
advantage of this offer the only thing you need do is remain a SLATE
subscriber through March 18, 1999. At that point, we will credit your
subscription with six extra months of SLATE at no charge. Of course,
if you prefer to cancel your subscription, we will refund the unused

SLATE has been a subscription-based site for about a year. In that
time two key developments caused us to reevaluate our business model.
First, the advertising market on the Web has continued to expand at a
remarkable pace. It roughly doubled in 1998 to about $1.8 billion, is
predicted to grow to about $3 billion in 1999, and should continue a
healthy 50 percent to 60 percent annual growth rate for the next
several years. Second, paid subscriptions for content (other than smut
and investments) simply have not grown as expected.

When SLATE made the decision to go paid, neither of the two conditions
described above were known. Now that they are, it makes sense to
change our strategy. The biggest problem with remaining paid was that
doing so would restrict our advertising potential. We're confident
that by making free our audience will grow substantially and
this will make us more attractive to advertisers.

As an early subscriber, you are core to our mission and our business.
We hope you'll continue to enjoy your subscription to SLATE. If you
do, you'll receive an e-mail on March 19 confirming a free six
month extension of SLATE subscription services.


Scott Moore

P.S. In the way that only he can, Michael Kinsley answers some
questions about the above announcement in his Readme column that will
post later today. You can read it now: it's included below.

Readme February 12, 1999
SLATE Goes Free

Almost a year ago, SLATE began charging a subscription fee for access
to most of our contents and services. Effective today, all current
editorial content will be free. E-mail deliveries, our weekly print-
out edition, "The Fray," and "The Compost" (the SLATE archive) will
still be available to subscribers only, and we will be adding new
subscriber benefits. Current subscribers will get a special offer for
continuing under the new arrangement. If you're not satisfied with
it, we will happily refund the balance of your subscription. Well,
happily is an exaggeration. But we do appreciate the folks who've put
their $19.95 on the line, and we don't want anyone to feel cheated or
abused by this new subscription policy.


Q: "New subscription policy" my Aunt Sally. Who are you trying to
kid? You're obviously backing down.
A: No, no, you see there's always been a mix of free and paid stuff
... we're just changing the mix .... OK, OK, sure: We're backing

Q: Why?
A: In a nutshell, it now looks as if it's going to be easier
to sell ads but harder to sell subscriptions than we thought a year
ago. Ten to 15 people visit our free areas every month for each one
paying subscriber. (That's counting a reader just once no matter how
often he or she visits.) It's painful to think of turning away so
many SLATE readers from so much of our content--not to mention the
potential readers who don't come in the first place. The spreadsheet
wizards figure that ad revenue from the increased traffic will more
than compensate for the lost subscriptions.

Q: Well, duh! Everybody said you can't charge for content on the
Internet. Information wants to be free! Unless it's about sex or
stocks. But oh no, you knew better. You'd show the world. You'd
charge for news digests, for political analysis, for cultural
discussions, for poetry f'r Chrissake. Don't you feel like jerks?
A: Not really. OK, maybe a bit. But look: This is terra incognita. We
never claimed to have found the one true path. We tried one thing,
now we're trying something else, and we'll keep trying until we
figure it out. Although we are owned by a rich company, becoming
financially self-sustaining remains a crucial goal. And it's not as
if anyone else has figured it out either. Let him or her with a
Webzine that's breaking even cast the first stone. (And "going to
break even next year" doesn't count. Every money-losing magazine in
history is going to break even next year.)

Q: But clearly, at least in hindsight, you got something wrong. What
was it?
A: Clearly, yes. It may just have been that we were too early. There is
too much free stuff out there, the process of paying and accessing
what you paid for is too clumsy and unfamiliar, and so on. Some of
this may change. But we also may have missed a couple of more
fundamental truths about the Web. One concerns readers and one
concerns advertisers. Web readers surf. They go quickly from site to
site. If they really like a particular site, they may visit it often,
but they are unlikely to devote a continuous half-hour or more to any
one site the way you might read a traditional paper magazine in one
sitting. This appears to be in the nature of the Web and not something
that is likely to change. And it makes paying for access to any
particular site a bigger practical and psychological hurdle. Web
advertisers, meanwhile, don't seem to place any special value on
reaching paying subscribers. That was a bit surprising, since
traditional magazine advertisers usually require paying subscribers.
Even profitable magazines often spend more money finding and signing
up subscribers than those subscribers will ever pay. But if they just
gave the magazine away, advertisers would lose interest. Why doesn't
this apply on the Web? Probably because Web advertisers pay on the
basis of ads served. If you buy an ad in a print magazine with a
500,000 circulation, you have no way of knowing how many of those
readers actually saw your ad. But if they paid for the magazine, you
at least have some assurance that they picked it up. On the Web, that
assurance is unnecessary. If you buy 500,000 ad impressions on SLATE,
you know that your ad has been put on someone's computer screen
500,000 times. This is a great selling point for Web advertising, but
it radically changes the economics of charging for subscriptions.

Q: Isn't this change a sign that you're getting desperate, that
Microsoft is losing interest, that you're about to fold, that the end
is nigh, strange and dreadful diseases are about to ravage the
population, the stock market is going to tank, Linda Tripp will get
her own TV talk show, and so on?
A: For heaven's sake, you made the same sort of dire predictions when
we started charging for content a year ago. We have had nothing but
support from the company, both in general and for every stage of our
ongoing experiment. One benefit of making our current content free is
that SLATE will be able to participate more fully in the new Microsoft
"portal" site,

Q: Do you promise this is the last big change in SLATE that you'll put
us through?
A: Absolutely not. This is an adventure. Thanks for joining us on it.

Q: One final question. What does Bill have to say about this?
A: It's true we approached the CEO with some trepidation, and his
initial reaction was not encouraging. He turned to his guard dogs and
said, "Neukom! Herbold! Kill!" But then he said, "Wait. What will
happen to that Emily Yoffe who writes the column about the tabloids?"
She'll get many new readers, we explained. "And 'Dear Prudence,' and
Edelstein's movie reviews, and all those e-mail back-and-forths?"
Ditto, ditto, ditto, we replied. "OK," he said, turning to his canine
physiotherapist, "Ballmer, call off the dogs. Give them some print
magazine to eat instead. They just love the Economist."

P.S. Don't forget that we will still be selling subscriptions--and if
you want services like "Today's Papers" by e-mail, you'll need to have
one. In fact, if you're not a subscriber, now would be a good time to
sign up. Any subscribers who join us before the end of March will be
eligible for the special bonus we're offering current subscribers.
Go to for details.

Quality Assurance Code
For Slate Use Only: 574650

------- End of Forwarded Message