I joined Slate Plus for the articles

Paywall in front of Slate Plus exclusive content.

Ceci n’est pas une paywall.

Slate Plus, the new membership program for Slate’s most loyal fans, is chockablock with benefits. Exactly one of them, however, is worth paying for: It lets me pay Slate for publishing articles that I read every day.

I ponied up $50 for a Slate Plus subscription the day it launched.

Why I joined: I like Slate. For all its faults — Upworthy-ized social media posts, clickbait headlines, its self-satisfied “#slatepitch” habit — it publishes a lot of good articles by talented writers. And it produces a bunch of podcasts that I listen to, including two of my favorites.

That’s why I gave them my credit card for a two-week free trial. (On the internet, “free” always comes with an asterisk and an automatic charge when the trial period is over.)

Not why I joined: The grab-bag of benefits that they describe as an “all-access pass.” These “extras, opportunities, and enhancements” include:

  • A mug
  • Ad-free versions of select podcasts (the Culture and Political Gabfests are the ones I care about)
  • Bonus segments on those podcasts
  • Single-page articles throughout the site (no pagination)
  • “On-page comments” (though not the ability to nuke comments from orbit)
  • Early access to articles such as Dear Prudence
  • Discounted tickets to live events
  • Reserved seats at those shows
  • “Behind-the-scenes info about Slate”
  • Updates from David Plotz
  • Discounts on Slate merchandise
  • More stuff as they think of it — “the ability to try new things”

All of this put together, frankly, is not worth $5 a month. The most appealing non-podcast benefit is the single-page article, which means, as Josh Bokardo points out, that they’re taking the lamentable step of turning respect for their readers into a bullet point in a sales brochure. (You do get a reminder at the end of each article that “In-page comments and single-page articles provided as part of your Slate Plus membership.”)

If Slate Plus has a tagline, it’s “this is not a paywall.” And while Slate Plus is not just a paywall, it uses a paywall to keep non-paying eyeballs out of the bonus content. (It’s the Slatepitchiest paywall imaginable, walling off content while denying the name.)

When they say “it’s not a paywall,” they really mean that they’re not making people pay for any content that has so far been free. But free or not, that content is the good content. That’s what’s worth paying for. It’s what I’m paying for, when I pay for Slate Plus.

The bonus features so far are a ragtag collection of outtakes, annotations, and unfinished sketches. The three Culture Gabfest segments I’ve heard are OK, but not nearly as good as the podcast proper. They haven’t been worth the extra 10 minutes it takes to listen to them. The Political Gabfest tried a better bonus: the Q&A from a recent live show. But regular listeners who were used to hearing Q&As at the end of the show complained, so Slate moved the Q&A out from behind the paywall.

Contrast that with Dan Savage’s podcast, which gives paid subscribers a Magnum version of the show. Twice as long, same kind of content, same quality. Mugs sold separately.

Speaking of podcasts, at least one Slate Plus feature is more annoying than the free version. To get the Plus versions of podcasts, you get one personal URL, which means that in addition to the Gabfests I like, I also get Hang Up and Listen and Game of Thrones podcasts that I delete right away.

Apparently Slate can’t just sell “hey, you like us, why not pay for us?” It’s the one thing that’s inarguably worth $5 a month, and I wish they’d just asked for money, or gone with a paywall. Pledges and paywalls are easy to understand, even if the particular way a given paywall works is complicated.

(In case it’s not obvious, it’s not worth paying for Slate Plus if you’re not already a fan of Slate. They’re up front about that, pitching Plus to the Slate superfans out there.)

Here’s what I like about the bonus features: they give Slate a way to justify charging for content. No one buys a DVD for half-assed commentary tracks or wisely trimmed outtakes, but they give the marketing department a hook.

Few of the benefits of Slate Plus make Slate better. They just add more.

I am encouraged by one of Plotz’s comparisons, though. “Our model is Amazon Prime, which just keeps on adding benefits.” If they build Plus into a thoughtful Prime-esque collection of enhancements, rather than a Woot-style Bag of Crap, Plus could be worth paying for in its own right next year.

In the meantime, if you like Slate, give them some money even if you don’t care about the Plus stuff. They’re worth it, and you’re overdue.