A momentous announcement: SLATE chickens out.

(801 words; posted Saturday, Jan. 11; to be composted Saturday, Jan.18)

A Momentous Announcement: SLATEChickens Out
LATE readers, we know, have been eagerly awaiting the moment when they can start paying us $19.95 a year for the privilege of reading this publication. That moment was supposed to come next month. We extend our heartfelt sympathy, therefore, to those who will be disappointed to learn that we have decided to keep S LATE free for the indefinite future.
     To be honest, we chickened out–for reasons best described by Nathan Myhrvold in a S
LATE article several months ago. Maybe in the future, when the Web is commonplace, people will happily pay for access to premium sites, as they pay now for HBO and other premium television channels. Right now, though, there are too many people who are too damned cheap … er, we mean … too engaged by the novelty of the medium to feel the need to pay extra for specific content. Pornographic and financial sites are a possible exception. But even in our headiest moments, we couldn’t convince ourselves that people lust for political and cultural commentary the way they lust for sex or money.
     To be even more honest, we still believe that economic reality will ultimately force many Web sites to charge for access. Meanwhile, any reader who feels betrayed by this change of plans should feel free to send us $19.95 anyway.

And What Does Bill Gates Think About All This?
     We thought you might ask that question. And, frankly, we were a bit curious ourselves. At first he took it very badly. “But you promised me $20 a reader,” he sobbed, borrowing a Kleenex from a nearby Nubian. “You promised, you promised, you promised.” Well, Bill, um, Mr. Gates, we countered, as you are aware from the theories of advanced cyberphilosophers, information wants to be free. “Never mind what information wants,” he bellowed. “What about what I want? I want that 20 bucks.” He cheered up, however, when we pointed out that he himself would be able to access S
LATE for free, thereby saving $20. “So what you’re saying,” he said, “is that I lose 20 bucks and save 20 bucks. It’s basically a break-even deal.” You got it, we hastily chirped. “OK,” he said, turning to his butler. “Ballmer, don’t have them killed after all.” Whew. Update
     In the little test we conducted in last week’s article on, the online bookstore came in dead last of three in terms of speedy delivery of an ordered copy of the latest Scott Turow novel. But, as we went to press, it was the only one of the three bookstores to have delivered an obscure university-press psychology text. Well, Borders, the national superstore chain, delivered the psych text about 15 minutes after we posted the article. Politics and Prose, a local bookshop in Washington, D.C., delivered three days later. In all, it took Amazon 11 days to deliver the book, Borders 18 days, and Politics and Prose 21 days. By the way, Amazon defenders have been quite active in ” The Fray,” and the article’s authors have fired back.
E-Mail Wants to Be Free
     Now that your continued free enjoyment of S
LATE will not be interrupted by a vulgar request for your credit-card number, this is a good time to sign up for our (free) e-mail delivery. What you get, every Friday afternoon, is a file containing almost all of S LATE, specially formatted to look like a traditional magazine, which you can print out or read offline. Click here to sign up. You can also download the same file at any time directly from the Web. Click here to download the file. And, starting in a couple of weeks, we will mail you–first class–a printed weekly edition of S LATE. That, unfortunately, is not free. It costs you about what it costs us: $70 a year. To subscribe, call 800-555-4995.
Helpful Hint
     By the way, the file you get by e-mail is formatted for Microsoft Word 6.0. (At the download site, you can also choose Adobe Acrobat.) The file is readable, and printable, by recent versions of other word processors, such as WordPerfect. However, if your word processor doesn’t qualify, you can download a free copy of Microsoft Word Viewer, which will do the job. Now here’s the hint: A lot of folks have Word Viewer without realizing it. Anyone who has the CD-ROM version of Windows 95 has it, and we noticed the other day that Word Viewer is included even on the CD-ROM version of Netscape Navigator! Goodness knows where else it may pop up. So, check in the Programs and Accessories lists on your Win 95 start button, and check your CD-ROM collection. You may already be a winner.

–Michael Kinsley