What Is Slate Premium? The Publisher’s New Method For Monetization

slate-premium1Slate is dipping its toe in the membership pool.

Digital publishers keep experimenting with different methods of monetization, whether through metered paywalls, crowdsourcing, events or subscriptions, to see which one’s the answer to the pressing and increasingly complicated revenue question.

In a blog post Monday, Slate Editor David Plotz introduced Slate Plus, a membership option for the most passionate Slate fans. For those who pay $5 monthly or $50 a year, Plotz said readers “who support [Slate] journalism and want a closer connection to it” get perks like access to Slate writers through Slate Plus member-only discussions, early viewing of certain articles, ad-free podcasts, 30 percent off live events, single page articles rather than pesky pagination and special commenting privileges.

But don’t worry — this is not a paywall. As Plotz noted, all the free stuff on Slate will stay free. The membership fee just buys you extras, a benefit package they’ll be adding to over time. This type of model has been described as a “reverse paywall,” one that GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram has said is a good way to reward loyal readers rather than penalizing them.

Plotz said Slate doesn’t want to rely so heavily on advertising.

“We have long depended on revenue from advertising to make a great magazine without charging readers. And while advertising remains central to our success, we think we’d be better off if we were less dependent on it,” he wrote on Slate.

slate-plus-adThe most interesting benefit to me is the access to the Slate staff because it highlights the idea of building community around online publications — something that is becoming more of a commodity with digital media outlets. “Members might help David Weigel decide which politico to profile, assign a tech story to Will Oremus, or chat about “Mad Men” with Willa Paskin,” Plotz wrote. I would argue there’s value in having the chance to dialogue with writers working for highbrow pubs. It’s hard to put a dollar amount on this, though. The New York Times is offering something similar through Times Premier, which gains readers access to writer Q&As and “Story Behind the Story” segments, making the audience feel more a part of the news process.

Of all the digitally-native outlets floating around on the Internet, Slate is actually one that has loyal readers. It’s 18 years old and boasts a strong masthead including Dahlia Lithwick, Hanna Rosin, Emily Bazelon and Plotz himself. So, Slate builds a strong case for offering membership because there are certainly people who consider themselves part of the site’s community and are thus willing to pay more for Slate perks. But with so many different paid online communities at our disposal, I wonder if enough readers find Slate content so compelling and necessary that they must get what’s beyond the free site.

Would you pay $5 a month or $50 annually for Slate Plus access? How would you put a value reverse membership packages? Tell us in the comments, or tweet us @10000Words.