Slate Online Magazine for Sale
Potential Buyers Include The Washington Post and New York Times
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 23, 2004; 2:45 PM
Eight years after Microsoft launched an online magazine in a groundbreaking attempt at cyber-hipness, Slate may be sold.
More than half a dozen media companies have expressed interest in buying the Internet publication, and the leading contenders are the New York Times and The Washington Post, a source familiar with the discussions said today.
There was no immediate comment from officials at the Times or The Post.
The Redmond, Wash.-based computer giant would like to keep distributing Slate online in partnership with a new owner, said Scott Moore, general manager of the MSN Network Experience, which includes Slate and MSNBC.com.
"There's a large amount of pride over what we've accomplished with Slate," Moore said. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is "a huge fan and supporter of Slate" and following the negotiations. But "Slate, in the grand scheme of Microsoft, is not a big investment."
"We're flattered by this interest from other media companies and I and everyone else on the staff are excited about the possibility," said Editor Jacob Weisberg. "Microsoft has been a wonderful owner for us. The question is really whether to get to the next stage in our development, we need to be in a conventional media environment."
Slate drew 4.6 million unique visitors last month, in part because it is part of the Microsoft Network, and the computer company would like to keep it there, even under a new owner, as a draw.
But Slate has never been profitable, despite being modestly in the black for two quarters last year, and Microsoft has not seen fit to beef up the 30-person staff, which is divided between Redmond, New York and Washington.
Slate "could benefit from being owned by a company primarily focused on media," which would provide "a synergy we just don't have," Moore said.
A deal could be reached "in a few weeks or a few months," he said, and Microsoft would keep publishing the magazine if no sale can be worked out.
The Post Co. would be a logical buyer because MSNBC already hosts the company's Newsweek magazine online and has a news alliance with The Post, which sometimes shares stories and video with the Microsoft site and on some occasions collaborates with NBC programs. But MSNBC has also has a relationship with such media outlets as Fox Sports.
The liberal magazine made a huge splash in 1996 when former New Republic editor and CNN host Michael Kinsley moved to Seattle to launch it. At the time, no one knew whether a daily online magazine could attract a steady audience, and the concept of an Internet-only publication seemed sufficiently strange that Slate for years produced a weekly paper version.
Kinsley -- who declared his independence up front with a discussion called "Is Microsoft Evil?" -- said he wanted to prove that an online magazine could be self-supporting. But after adopting and then abandoning a subscription fee, Slate remains subsidized by its corporate parent.
The magazine quickly abandoned its long, print-style features for such quicker innovations as digests of what's in other newspapers and magazines, first-person diaries and breakfast-table debates, and regular columns called "Press Box," "Chatterbox" and "Kausfiles."
Asked if he felt at all spurned by Microsoft, Weisberg said: "This is very much about how successful we've been to date."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company