Jacob Weisberg: ‘The confusion about paywalls is bad for sites like ours’

Jacob Weisberg reacted so swiftly to Forbes reporter Jeff Bercovici’s suggestion Friday that Slate might put in some sort of pay model because “the confusion about paywalls is bad for sites like ours,” the Slate Group chairman said when reached by phone Monday.

Slate had a hard time shedding its rep as a pay site for years after experimenting with a paywall in 1998, Weisberg said. “It took some years for people to stop being confused about it,” adding that Salon’s “Premium” model a few years later also confused readers “because our names are so similar.”

Paywalls “don’t make sense for a site like ours,” Weisberg said. “We’re not in fact looking at one.” Slate is, he said, looking at ways of “getting revenue from our users” and one way might be the membership model, sort of like NPR’s, Weisberg said, that Bercovici stumbled upon when he saw a marketing survey.

If it happens, Weisberg said, the memberships would have fixed prices — “we’re not looking to put out a tip jar” — and have commensurate benefits. (In fact, Weisberg once likened being a Slate reader to being in a club.)

I asked how fresh the site’s musings about such a model are: “They’re not fresh but I think we haven’t come that far toward structuring an actual plan or deciding to go ahead with an actual plan,” Weisberg said.

The Washington Post, owned by the same corporation as Slate, is reportedly considering a paywall, as is The Daily Beast.

But just “because I’m adamant we’re not having a paywall doesn’t mean I think paywalls are a bad thing,” Weisberg said. He’s in favor of other organizations trying them out. “I just would rather be at the back of the pack.”

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  • JTFloore

    i think paywalls are logical and even necessary. but if i want to read just one story, i don’t want to pay $4 for it. 50-cents, $1 maybe. but i’m not paying the equivilant of a week’s subscription (or more) for just one story in one publication that i might look at once a month.

  • nicholasT

    Simple. If there is no paywall from the inception of a site, it is mighty difficult to convert from free to paid. WSJ.com has had a paywall since day one, never wavered, and is successful. Of course, the content must be compelling at the very least.