Digital Magazine Subscriptions: Slate Reflects on One Year of ‘Plus’

How did Slate Plus do during its first year? And what can it teach publishers about digital magazine subscriptions?

Last week, we came across a cool, candid essay from Slate Editor-in-Chief Julia Turner on the occasion of Slate Plus’s first birthday. From the beginning, Slate has emphasized that Plus is not a paywall, but rather a membership predicated on premium content. This model is gaining in popularity among digital magazine subscriptions – The New York Times, Ars Technica, and The National Journal launched similar membership products in recent years – but Slate does a great service for both its readers and its fellow publishers by providing us with a progress report.

In Turner’s piece, she faithfully outlines each component of the Slate Plus strategy, demonstrating that the product certainly holds its own when it comes to digital magazine subscriptions.

Here are some of the features a $5/month or $50/year Slate Plus membership gets you (on top of the magazine’s standard offerings):

  • An exclusive podcast feed
  • Members-only articles and newsletters
  • Early access to high-profile content
  • Event discounts
  • Commenting perks
  • Navigation advantages
  • A mug!

Generous, but not overly so. A clear effort to give members something they wouldn’t get otherwise. Note that a couple of the key features represent a movement toward multiplatform experimentation, with Slate Plus itself serving as a sort of proving ground for content.

Turner says that the most popular Slate Plus content has been the podcasts, unsurprisingly, along with behind-the-scenes staff stories and debates. But she’s also up front about what didn’t thrill members.

“Not everything we launched worked perfectly. Members didn’t like listening to Slate Plus promo language at the beginning of each podcast—so we axed it. It hasn’t been as easy to log in as it should be. And it took us too long to get Slate Plus working in our iPhone app (though it’s up and running there today). But throughout you’ve been communicative and patient, letting us know what you want more of and what benefits are most valuable to you,” Turner writes.

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“As we plan for year two of Slate Plus, we’ve been working to offer more of the things you like best. We’re planning to launch something we’re calling the Slate Academy – ambitious surveys of interesting topics that are less news-driven than the work we do on the main site, and offer readers and listeners a chance to take a deep dive with Slate experts into subjects they are passionate about.

“We’re also making some long-desired improvements to the Slate Plus user experience. We’ve been steadily reducing the number of ads Slate Plusters see on each Slate page, most recently disabling intrusive video ad units for members. We will have an improved login system and a customizable podcast feed for members in the next few weeks.

“One more thing: When we conducted our first Slate Plus member survey last fall, one result surprised us above all. When we asked you what you like most about Plus, we gave you a range of options—podcasts, articles, commenting experience, etc. But hundreds of you wrote in an answer we hadn’t included as one of the multiple-choice options: ‘I like supporting Slate.'”

How about that? Reader loyalty does still exist in publishing when you build a great multiplatform product! And Slate shows no signs of slowing down.

What are your thoughts on digital magazine subscriptions? Do you have a system in place? Share your experiences and theories in the comments!

To read more about how Slate Plus is faring when it comes to digital magazine subscriptions, visit Slate.

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