Reports: Slate Up for Sale

Microsoft is considering the sale of its pioneering news magazine, Slate, and the New York Times and Washington Post are cited as potential suitors, according to published reports.

The two reported bidders were among those breaking news of the potential sale, which was said to be the result of a change in corporate strategy. Slate representatives wouldn’t comment, but said that media reports were “fairly accurate.”

The Washington Post quoted editor Jacob Weisberg as saying, “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 has been seen by some as an odd fit for Microsoft, given that the company is best known for its software and technology. But recent months have seen the software giant do well in the online advertising arena.

In Microsoft’s recent quarterly report, MSN — of which Slate is a part — reported better-than-expected revenue growth of 5 percent. Advertising revenues increased 35 percent during the quarter, demonstrating strength in both traditional online and search-based advertising, the company said. The company as a whole saw profit for its fiscal fourth quarter jump by 82 percent to $2.69 billion (25 cents per share), thanks to a tax benefit, but it missed analysts’ expectations by a penny.

Still, Slate, founded by Michael Kinsley and launched in 1996, is an unlikely candidate to rake in dollars from what has been the most lucrative form of online advertising as of late: search. Microsoft has lately made a significant investment in search, and it expects to launch its own search technology by the end of the year.

Covering news, politics, opinion and culture, Slate has often been compared with fellow pioneer Salon. Like Salon, Slate tried a subscription model in 1998, in its efforts to monetize its audience. The publication changed course and began to allow free access to most of its offerings in 1999.

In June, MSN Slate drew 2.9 million U.S. visitors, down from 3.4 million in June 2003, according to comScore Media Metrix.

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