“Help! I’m curious about advice columns but I don’t know if they help with engagement or my bottom line!”
Slate, which launched its first advice column, Dear Prudence, in 1997, has seen notable traffic around advice — and noticed positive upticks in its business’ bottom line. So much so that this week, it launched its fourth column, Pay Dirt, which will publish twice a week and be sent out as a weekly newsletter.
Several media companies have been working to build out their money content for years now, each approaching the topic of personal finance with their own voice and twist. Slate is choosing to talk about money in the context of how it impacts personal relationships and the awkwardness or difficult conversations that can arise from having those conversations — a perfect topic for an advice column.
The first column published on Wednesday, for example, is written by one of the Pay Dirt columnists Elizabeth Spiers and offers advice to a reader asking what to do about a cheap friend who is the heir to a family fortune. The second columnist is Athena Valentine, who will be penning the Saturday editions of the Pay Dirt. Every week, they will be able to select a question that users submit through a Google Form.
Both of the columnists are new to Slate, but were selected because of their unique perspectives and backgrounds in finance, Wiegand said. Spiers, who previously founded Gawker and The Insurrection, started her career as a buy-side financial analyst and brings to the column her Wall Street experience. On the other hand, Valentine is the founder of the site Money Smart Latina and brings her knowledge of personal finance.
The selection of the new columnists was less focused on whether or not they could replicate what the other advice writers at Slate were already doing. “We look more at the way [columnists] see the world and approach the world more so than anybody fitting into our particular voice,” said Megan Wiegand, Slate’s managing editor overseeing Pay Dirt.
The strategy for expanding advice is in large part due to the success of the publication’s first three columns: its parenting, called Care and Feeding, its sex and relationship column How To Do It, and its longstanding general advice column Dear Prudence.
On average, Slate’s advice columns receive hundreds of submitted questions every week and each column receives hundreds of thousands of views, according to the company. Over the past two years, the publisher’s first three advice columns saw page views increase by 38% while unique visitors rose by 244%. The Dear Prudence newsletter has the brand’s second-largest overall subscriber base. Both How To Do It, which first published in 2019, and Care and Feeding, launched in 2018, were increased from two issues per week to publishing four and six issues per week, respectively, as of last year.
Because traffic is so significant to these pages, in aggregate, the advice columns are the biggest driver of programmatic ad dollars, according to the company. At launch, Pay Dirt does not have a launch sponsor, but Wiegand said that from the positive responses from sponsors on other money- and finance-related projects at the company — particularly in the podcast space — this seemed like the obvious next topic to tackle from a business perspective as well.
The advice content’s high engagement has translated into it being a significant converter of readers to paid subscribers as well, with advice being one of the top reasons people become Slate Plus members, said Bill Carey, Slate’s director of strategy.
This correlation makes sense because of late, there has been a trend in journalism to lean toward reporters’ and writers’ unique voices, according to Gwen Vargo, director of reader revenue at American Press Institute. Platforms like Substack and Subtext allow for direct relationships to form with one writer in intimate settings on people’s phones, like the text message app and in their inboxes, she said. Beyond that, the opinions reporters and columnists share on platforms like Twitter allow readers to further humanize the people who create the content they read, making it feel like relationships are forming.
What’s more, converting a reader to a subscriber is “the sum of everything — not just one article but every interaction that you’re having,” Vargo said. So the more columns a consumer reads because of the connection they have with its writer, the more likely they are to subscribe.
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