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Slate Launches Paid Membership Program

Paywall 2.0?

If you want to get into the new members-only section of Slate, you’re going to have to pay.

This week, the online publication unveiled Slate Plus. While the rest of the site—and the majority of the content—will remain free, the special section will have additional content content for $5 a month or $50 a year.

"It's an opportunity to engage our most loyal audience and talk directly to them with compelling content," general manager at Slate Magazine Brendan Monaghan explained to Adweek.

This is the second attempt by the company to get readers to pay for its goods. Slate tried to go behind a paywall in the late 1990s but ultimately removed it after people weren't thrilled with the restricted access.

For the most part, Monaghan shies away from the maligned p-word. He considers the new offering to be closer to Amazon Prime than ESPN Insider.

"It's the DVD extra model," he said, "We're not changing the movie. We're giving you more what you love after the movie."

Bonus features include will get first dibs on events, as well as a 30 percent discount of tickets and 20 percent off at Slate's store. Fans of the podcast will have the opportunity to listen to ad-free content and additional segments. 

There will be opportunities to engage with Slate's writers, including giving suggestions for stories. Members will have access to long-form journalism pieces before the rest of the public. One of Slate's most popular columns, Dear Prudence, will be published earlier for the Slate Plus audience. They'll also be able to have an exclusive chat with Emily Yoffe of Dear Prudence once a month.

This might be the year to convince readers to cough up for goods. Bloomberg Businessweek reported that paywalls helped increase newspaper circulation revenue by 5 percent last year, the first increase since 2003. The Newspaper Association of America said in 2013 revenue from digital channels rose nearly 6 percent and made up 12 percent of the newspaper industry's total revenue.

Other companies, like The New York Times, have been able to succeed in getting subscribers to pony up the cash. Columbia Journalism Review reported that though The New York Times only added 23,000 digital subscribers in Q2 of 2013, it was able to pull in more than $150 million the prior year in revenue directly linked to the paywall.

Then again, the San Francisco Chronicle got rid of its paywall for premium content on SFchronicle.com in August last year, just four months after it began. Instead, it announced at the time that it would duplicate content on the free SFgate.com and SFChronicle.com, and vice-versa. But, the paid site would have a digital "newspaper experience" and exclusive features, similar to Slate's plan. 

It all comes down to the need to monetize. Though Slate Plus will not be ad supported, Monaghan insists the main site will still be hospitable to marketers. In addition, Slate is open to alternate advertising methods on Slate Plus, whether that means customized programs or sponsoring content and events for the site's paying readership. 

"I don't think the ad market is going anywhere anytime soon," he said. "It still represents a significant part of our revenue stream and will for a long time."

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