SLATE Update

A progress report.

SLATE will not publish next week. In the great tradition of political and cultural journalism, the editors will spend the week lying on the beach, perhaps reading the odd scrap of old-fashioned print-on-paper, and resting up for the election campaign and other ordeals ahead. SLATE is proud to be launching this hoary custom of summer editorial sloth into cyberspace. However, our computers will be on the job. (They neglected to ask for the week off in their union contract.) And they will happily serve up the current issue, plus a complete inventory of past articles and features (in “The Compost“) while we’re gone. New material will be posted beginning noon PDT Monday, Aug. 12, with a complete new issue by Friday, Aug. 16.

SLATE’s been online for over a month now, and in general, we’re pleased with the reaction. Claims about readership tend to be even more dubious in the online world than they are in the world of traditional paper magazines. Counting Internet readers is an inexact science, lending itself to exaggeration. But here’s our count, as honest as we can make it. Excluding our launch week, when the numbers were much higher, we’ve been serving up about 100,000 pages a day. That would be 10,000 readers a day, or 70,000 a week, reading an average of 10 pages each online. (Of course, it could also be 100,000 people a day looking at one page each and turning away in disgust, or it could be 50 of my aunts, uncles, and cousins busily inflating the numbers by clicking up 2,000 pages a day.)

These figures don’t include people who are printing out SLATE directly from the cover page (or getting it by e-mail). From anecdotal evidence, SLATE’s special print-out edition seems to be a popular option, but we have no numbers on it. Many people tell me they’re downloading the print-out file and reading it on screen but offline. We never even thought of that. (Soon, though, we’ll be offering an offline reading edition that retains some of the Web’s interactivity and graphics that aren’t in the print-out file.) We’ve recently reformatted the print-out edition to make it more attractive and reduce the number of pages (just 27 for the whole Thursday, Aug. 1, issue). We’ve also added an Adobe Acrobat version, along with the Microsoft Word model. Try it out, if you haven’t already.

Another surprise: Monday is the most popular day for reading SLATE. Readership declines through the week and is lowest on the weekends. We have designed the magazine to be most current and timely Friday–when we update “The Week/The Spin,” for example–with the thought that people would like to read it over the weekend. But maybe that’s wrong. In any event, Monday is the day we update the “Horse Race” campaign pundits’ analysis, and give you instant reviews of the “Other Magazines” that come out Monday morning (Time, Newsweek, TheNew Yorker, etc.) So Monday’s not a bad day either. Many people we hear from actually do seem to enjoy popping in every couple of days to see what’s new, which is a more gratifying surprise.

Another measure of readership (though not necessarily of satisfied readership) is response. We’ve been getting between 700 and 800 e-mail comments from readers every week. Our “Everyday Economics” columnist, Steven Landsburg, tells us he got 300 personal e-mail messages about his first column. When I called our “Varnish Remover” columnist, Robert Shrum, to tell him that some readers were complaining about having a self-described Democrat analyzing both parties’ political commercials (though I think he’s doing a fine, neutral job), he said the only complaint he’s gotten himself was from the White House. In a couple of weeks, we’ll be launching our bulletin board, “The Fray,” where readers from the White House or any other house can bitch and moan to their hearts’ content (though a kind word or two would also be appreciated). But it’s already clear that we have just the kind of active, engaged readership we were hoping for.

We’ll know more about who our readers are when free registration begins in two or three weeks. We’re planning to tell advertisers that you’re all highly educated, high-income, politically engaged, and purchasers of vast quantities of automobiles, designer clothing, books, records, military aircraft, and alcoholic beverages. Please don’t let us down.

This first month has been a learning process. Warren Buffett, America’s second-richest man (after somebody whose name I’ve forgotten), has written that he’s suspicious of anyone who talks of learning from his own mistakes. The trick, Buffett says, is to learn from other people’s mistakes. Still, if you’re going to make mistakes, you might as well learn from them. SLATE’s made a few. Initially we were incompatible with too many browsers–including early versions of Netscape. We think we’ve solved that. (And if we haven’t, please let us know at We’re still a bit slow to download compared with some other sites–about 20 percent, according to our resident tech gurus–but we’re working on that, too. Our original idea of a separate cover and contents page, united by theme music, has not, in our view, been a success, and we’ll be reworking that in the weeks ahead. (Meanwhile, many folks seem to be missing the contents page completely, thus missing many articles and features. You can skip the cover and go directly to the contents page, if you want, at–or, of course, you can spare yourself the gibberish and bookmark it.)

Amajor screw-up, to be honest, has been our e-mail delivery. In theory, it should be great: a file, delivered straight to your computer, that you can print out (or read on screen) as the latest SLATE. At last count, more than 16,000 people had signed up. We knew there’d be some problems with many e-mail systems in receiving this rather large file. What we weren’t prepared for was problems in sending it. We apologize, and hope that’s starting to work right for you. (Last Friday’s delivery went pretty well.) SLATEon Paper, our monthly printed edition, to be available by U.S. Mail and at Starbucks, also has been pushed back a month. But the first issue will be out by the end of August. (Call 800-555-4995 to subscribe.)

Our cover feature a couple weeks ago (“Electric Chairs“), about designing a chair for reading an online magazine, was one I was uncertain about. It surprised me pleasantly by generating a large and entertaining response. (See a sample in last week’s “E-Mail to the Editors.”) For the next week, though, the staff of SLATE will be emphasizing comfort above all in our choices of where to sit. And should these be places from where we can’t read a computer screen, that’s OK too.

See you Aug. 12, or soon thereafter, we hope.

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