If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re logging in from a computer somewhere outside the U.S. Maybe you’re sipping your morning coffee in Shanghai. Maybe you’re in an office somewhere in London. Maybe you are hanging from a cliff on a hazardous expedition in the Andes and you paused for a Kind bar and to check your smartphone. You might be in Australia, or Germany, or any of the other countries where we have significant international readerships.
The fact that Slate has such a robust international audience delights me as Slate’s editor. I get notes all the time from readers in distant time zones, and knowing that the work Slate journalists do is useful and entertaining to people all over the planet is gratifying. It’s a testament to the way journalism can connect people, and to how far it can spread information and ideas and a sense of virtual community. It makes the world feel smaller and bigger at the same time.
I am writing today with news for this far-flung readership: Slate is rolling out a paywall for international users. This move is not one we undertake lightly. The paywall will be metered, which means that you can read five stories every month for free. If you’re a fairly casual reader, nothing will change. But if you’re a loyalist who comes and reads Slate more often, we are now asking you to pay $5 a month or $50 a year for Slate Unlimited, which allows full access to all the work we produce: articles, videos, podcasts—you get it all. And if you’re such a loyalist that you’re already a Slate Plus member, then you’re covered—unlimited international access to Slate is now a benefit of Slate Plus.
Let me explain why we’re making this change, and then I’ll explain in more detail how it works. Slate is an ad-supported business. The majority of our revenue comes from the ads you see around the site. The money advertisers give us to run these ads pays for the salaries of our writers, editors, designers, photo editors, and technologists. But there’s a problem: Our U.S.-based sales team sells primarily to domestic advertisers, many of whom only want to reach a domestic audience. This may sound provincial, but there are decent business reasons for it: Maybe the car company buying ads on our site doesn’t sell the model it’s advertising in your country. Or maybe the marketing strategy where you live is different. Whatever you think of the logic, the fact is inescapable: Many U.S. advertisers won’t pay us to reach readers outside of the United States.
The end result is that, outside the United States, we are not covering our costs. That leaves us, as a business, with two choices: either make up for low ad rates by increasing the number of ads on the site, or turn to our readers to pay a fair share of the costs of producing the site. We’ve opted to do the latter.
A Slate Unlimited membership will come with some benefits beyond unfettered access to Slate’s stories. We’ll be turning off pagination for you, and you’ll see fewer ads as well. We figure that if we’re making less money from the ads you look at, you should be looking at fewer ads, too. The paywall will be rolling out gradually in different countries over the coming weeks. To learn more about the nitty-gritty of how Slate Unlimited works, check out our FAQ.
Thanks for hearing me out. I know it’s never popular to take something that is free and start charging for it. But if you’re reading Slate more than five times a month, we figure that means you find real value in the work we do. And for Slate to remain strong—for us to keep producing work every day that helps our readers understand how to think about the news—we need to make this move.
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