Paying to get rid of pagination on Slate.com? Really?

Yesterday I wrote about how the design of the Weather.com illustrates the negative influence of advertisers on the site: the experience is degraded almost to the point of ridiculousness. Pages regularly have more than half of their real estate dedicated to linking to terrible, shallow content meant only to get clicks.

Another, similar situation. Slate Magazine, one of the first online-only magazines to make it big, is now charging for a more usable experience, dubbed Slate+. They’re doing some really interesting things like better access to writers and VIP treatment at events. That’s really cool! But they also are charging for a more usable site experience:

“We know how much some of you dislike pagination: Slate Plus members will automatically get single-page articles throughout the site. Members will also be able to read and post comments directly on article pages, rather in a pop-up window, and we’ll highlight member comments.”

If someone was starting a company from scratch would they do something like this? Would they consciously make a worse user experience for those people who don’t pay by paginating articles and making the comment system worse? Of course not! This is only the state of things because of the terrible effect of advertising and the page-view mentality that has dominated online experience for so long. Now, while transitioning to a better model, sites figure they’ll just keep the shitty advertising-based experience for the people who don’t pay and the new, improved user experience for those who pay. What a mess.

Here’s the thing: if Slate were to make their existing experience better for people who don’t pay…by removing pagination and making the commenting system better, they would grow their audience faster and garner more readers. Easier access = more use. The more easy something is to do the more it will be done.

My guess is the reason why they don’t do this is because they’re scared of showing a dip in revenue from those pagination-based page views…they’re scared to rock the boat. Or maybe they truly think it’s a worthy upgrade feature. But the problem with this approach is that it actively puts the interests of advertisers above the interests of readers, plain and simple. It’s the same problem that weather.com has and many sites have had for years.

I suppose it would be nice to have a spreadsheet that shows the value of an improved user experience. It would be so useful in so many contexts, from building news sites to weather sites to software. In the meantime the best strategy is to simply work with people who get it and who challenge the status quo of yesterday. Sometimes you have to point your ship in the right direction without seeing the further shore.

Published: April 22nd, 2014

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