Slate Expands Subscription Program Due To Post-Election Membership Bump

slate-plusFake news flourishes with easy access to programmatic revenue. Real news doesn’t.

The online pub Slate – in the real news category – has been diversifying its revenue stream through subscriptions since 2014. But the 2016 US presidential election dramatically accelerated its membership growth – up 50% from 18,000 in November to 27,000 now.

This increase far exceeded Slate’s year-end projection of 20,000 members.

“This growth is not something we expected, but testament to the value people found,” said Gabriel Roth, editorial director of the $5-per-month subscription program Slate Plus. “People realize that independent journalism is valuable, and the purely advertising-driven business model is not enough to sustain it. They want to contribute and realize that it may be under threat in a broader way as well.”

While Slate Plus revenue is barely a drop in the bucket compared to Slate’s overall ad revenue, Roth sees Slate Plus as a way for quality journalism to thrive.

“The advertiser-driven web inevitably drives toward commodification,” Roth said. “Anyone can put up a website.” But not every publication, and especially not fake news sites, can get readers to pay for content.

Slate is putting most of its subscription revenue back into member programs.

In 2017, subscribers will get more exclusive content, those in big cities can attend members-only events and Slate Plus will roll out an online community for members.

“We have reached the scale where a pool of conscientious, invested Slate fans can be in conversation with the magazine and each other in a valuable and interesting way,” Roth said.

Slate Plus will also continue its outreach to increase membership. Many of Slate’s loyal readers find articles while scrolling their social media feeds.

“That’s a trap that I’ve fallen into in the past, thinking that Facebook [readers] and loyal [readers] are different buckets,” Roth said. “[With] an article that goes really big, by definition the lion’s share of those millions of people are not going to be Slate fans. But many of the people who read Slate again and again have liked Slate on Facebook or followed Slate on Twitter.”

When Slate Plus launched, the program had modest goals: serve loyal readers and break even. With thousands of new members, Slate Plus may set its sights higher as it brings more loyal readers into the fold.

“The program can do more than break even, and contribute to the well-being of the magazine,” Roth said.

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