Indie Publishing
Field Notes

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Replacing ads with sponsorships

I love discussing common challenges of producing a magazine with other publishers. One topic that always comes up is advertising, or rather, the need for third parties to help fund the production of the magazine. For most small publishers dealing with advertisers is considered a necessary evil – a small sacrifice in editorial freedom to make the larger vision possible.

Unless you are an established newsstand magazine like Monocle, Frankie or Vogue getting high-profile companies to advertise in your publication is really hard. It’s much more likely that you end up working with smaller companies that on one hand are often much more accessible and passionate about your product, but on the other hand don’t have the creative manpower to come up with high-quality artwork for their ads. Editorial designers spend hundreds of hours creating a beautiful experience for their readers, so it really hurts when cheap ads disrupt that experience.

When I started Offscreen I was trying to come up with a system that is less intrusive. I replaced annoying quarter-, half- and full-page ad slots half-way through an editorial piece in the magazine with sponsor pages: eight companies present themselves in a very subtle, unobtrusive, unified way in the center of the magazine.

I don’t make a secret of relying on those companies. They help make Offscreen possible. In fact, they now cover pretty much all of the production cost of an issue.

This idea worked out surprisingly well for everyone involved. It really does create a win-win-win situation.


After the first issue went out and people started sending me feedback, I received lots of comments about how nicely designed and beautifully integrated the sponsor pages are. In fact, many readers told me that, for the first time ever, they read every single word of a magazine from cover to cover – including the ‘ads’. I get a sense that most readers don’t just not mind them, they actually find them valuable. If they haven’t heard of one of the sponsors before, they are very much inclined to check them out because they trust Offscreen and know that I won’t feature companies that provide no value. At best, my readers consider the sponsor pages a catalogue of suggestions. At worst, they flick through them acknowledging the fact that these companies made the magazine possible.


What more can you hope for as a sponsor than an audience that actually sees (and I mean 'look at and read through’) your promotion. Instead of being part of a desperate, in-your-face shouting contest, the tone of the ads is subtle and thoughtful – an approach that creative people clearly appreciate. It takes a certain type of company to ‘get’ that and I believe our readers give our sponsors a lot of credit for that alone.


Besides the obvious financial support, having those sponsors in the magazine serves another purpose. I’m very much proud of the quality of companies that support Offscreen. These are products and services I recommend to my family, friends, and colleagues all the time and not just because they pay me. I made a conscious effort to create a brand that is associated with companies that people in our industry trust and have high regard for. It adds credibility.

One thing I learned and what I find quite fascinating is the realisation that you can make something less intrusive and more subtle, and people actually pay more attention because of it.

Talking dollars

I always appreciated people speaking unambiguously about their income, like Maciej Ceglowski who on stage at XOXO honestly and unapologetically told the audience that he made $181,000 last year. It’s out there and the taboo is gone. It must be freeing to him and to some extent I’m sure to the people around him too.

Talking about money is something individuals in our industry often awkwardly avoid. We all know there is a lot of it going around, but everyone’s just in it for the love of solving problems and making the world a better place, riiight?

I’ve been thinking of opening my books too, considering that I’ve been very transparent with everything else happening behind the scene. Having spoken to a lot of folks in the tech world, there is a bit of a misconception in that some people think Offscreen is very successful in dollar terms. Those who are vaguely familiar with how traditional publishing works understand though that ‘success’ in this field is closer to ‘making it sustainable’ than ‘getting rich’.

So, here it goes. Here’s how ‘successful’ Offscreen is in numbers. (Don’t forget to read my notes below.)

Income through magazine sales (online and retailers): $138,963.08
Income through sponsorships and other channels: $42,880.53
Total revenue (financial year 2012/2013): $181,843.61

Printing costs: $36,526.17
Shipping/packaging costs: $42,701.87
Other expenses: $37,774.34
Total expenses (financial year 2012/2013): $117,002.38

My profit/income for the last financial year was $64,841.24 before tax.

Some important notes to keep in mind:

  • The financial year in Australia runs from the 1st of July to the 30th of June the following year. All numbers in US dollars, converted from Australian dollars at the current rate of 1 AUD = 0.939 USD.

  • This may seem like a high salary in some places in the world, like Berlin where the cost of living is low. Offscreen is based in Melbourne, Australia, where the cost of living (in my opinion) is closer to that of New York City.

  • The financial year above covered the expenses and income of three issues of Offscreen.

  • Offscreen is my full time job. I currently don’t have other sources of income.

  • Offscreen does not employ any staff. I hire freelancers and contributors to help get an issue done. Their cost is reflected in the ‘other’ section of the expenses above.

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