Washington Post Snaps Up Slate

The Washington Post Company agreed to buy Microsoft’s Slate.com, giving the traditional media player more online advertising inventory that will let clients reach an audience similar to that of its existing properties.

Financial terms weren’t disclosed. The sale has been anticipated since July, when the New York Times Company was also cited as a possible suitor.

Interactive subsidiary Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive (WPNI) will run Slate’s business operations. WPNI’s Cliff Sloan, VP of business development and general counsel, was named publisher. Sloan described the acquisition as a good fit for its existing advertisers, expanding its inventory of ad impressions reaching affluent, influential readers.

“It adds another powerhouse publication to the two powerhouse publications we have,” he said, referring to Washingtonpost.com and Newsweek.com. Sloan said he expects the acquisition to help WPNI pick up additional advertisers, as well. Slate does not bring with it any new ad formats or products, he said.

Audience duplication between Slate.com and WashingtonPost.com is approximately 20 percent, according to a source close to the deal.

MSN sold Slate as part of a transition away from niche publishing, said Scott Moore, general manager of MSN Network Experience.

“It’s fair to say MSN is focused on more mass market publishing at this point, serving the biggest categories of information people are interested in,” he said. “Slate is a niche publication. We wanted to find a buyer that had a lot of synergy with Slate’s editorial mission.” Moore said he felt confident MSN had found that buyer.

For Slate, the sale ends an eight-year stint under MSN’s wing, but a content relationship between the two will continue. Microsoft’s portal will continue linking to the site, the two companies agreed.

No layoffs are planned, Sloan said, but several employees have chosen not to make the transition. Most prominent among them is Cyrus Krohn, Slate’s publisher and first employee. Krohn will stay at Microsoft and work in MSN’s video team. Other departing staffers include Associate Publisher Eliza Truitt and several production and editorial staffers.

Slate’s Jacob Weisberg remains editor. He said, “Microsoft has been a wonderful home for us since 1996. It’s clear, though, that The Washington Post Company is the best place for Slate to continue to grow and develop.”

Slate has offices in New York and Washington, D.C., which will both remain operational.

Slate had six million unique users in November 2004, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Revenue for WPNI’s other publications increased 37 percent to $45 million during the first three quarters of 2004. Online display ad income grew 59 percent.

The Web site has often been compared with Salon, since both publishers use an online magazine format and both tried a subscription model in the late ’90s. However, Slate reversed that decision a year later and has since relied on advertising.

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