A Matter of Motives
There are a million little decisions you make in starting up a Christian indie magazine, one of which is whether you want to include advertising. Magazine readers usually don't think anything about ads, but they present a deeply philosophical question for publishers. Ruth Jamieson lays out the publisher's philosophical dilemma pretty well in the introduction of her book, Print is Dead, Long Live Print:
To truly understand the demise of print, we need to understand who its real customers are. Traditionally, magazines don't make their money from the cover price—that's just to heighten the perceived value of the magazine. Magazines make their real money from selling advertising: to put it another way, they sell brands access to their readership. The magazine is not the product for sale—its readers are. Readers are not the customer—the advertisers are. The unspoken agreement between the publisher and the reader is that the readers get cheap content in return for looking at some adverts. Meanwhile, advertisers get access to readers in return for funding the magazine.
Doing our research on magazine startups, we bought a slew of indie magazines to get an idea of formats, aesthetics, themes, basically what's working and not working for others. Two that we bought were Kinfolk and Cereal. Both of those magazines began as little indies without any advertising at all. But you look at their current editions, and it's hard to find the substantive articles among the weeds of all their advertising. So, while they started out with readers as their customers, you could say that they switched their model to selling brands access to the subscription base they developed (even while maintaining their original subscription prices).
Looking at the Christian magazine genre, it appears to have virtually gone the same route. We picked up copies of Christianity Today, Charisma, Relevant, and even Bible Study Magazine to spy out the land of Christian publishing and found that they have all bought in to the advertising model.
And this wasn't just limited to Christian publishing. Some "major" ministries have also adopted this model.
While advertising no doubt gives the indie publisher a firmer financial platform, as Jamieson observes, it comes at a cost. A great cost actually. Consequently, we've made the decision not to accept advertising in Breath—ever. We, instead, have decided to stay true to the covenant that allows for indies to flourish in the first place:
For this new generation of publishers, with their emphasis on high production values and original concepts and content, their curiosity and reader-first mentality, there is a new covenant at the heart of magazine making. Rather than magazines offering their readers cheap content in return for looking at the adverts, indies offer their readers a unique product that will be treasured by their readers, for a modest fee. —Ruth Jamieson, Print is Dead, Long Live Print
Eschewing advertising, we won't have to answer to anyone but the Lord. Interestingly enough, that is apparently rare in Christian circles these days.