The Ad-Free Magazine Renaissance Continues

Magazines and ads … the two go together like peas in a pod, and the ad-funded model has been a staple of the magazine industry for decades. Yet with the drop in print ad budgets over the past 10 years, launching an ad-funded magazine can be a wild ride.

Enter the ad-free renaissance in the indie magazine world. It’s been a fascinating turn of events. First, publishers give it all away and try to make money off traffic and digital ads. Then the digital ad industry implodes under its fraud-laden weight while niche and specialty titles find favor. Now publishers are finding new business models that deal directly with the reader.

Take Erin Bried, publisher of Kazoo. She found a glaring hole in the newsstand for a magazine for young girls that went beyond the “princess and the pop star” model.

“It was ‘Frozen’ and ‘My Little Pony,’ and all of these teeny bopper magazines with stories about having good manners and pretty hair and navigating friend drama,” Bried told Folio:’s Greg Dool.  “It kind of simmered with me. I felt there was so much more than we could offer girls; there’s such a bigger, brighter vision of the world with so much more possibility, and no one was showing them that.”

With her years of industry experience at Conde Nast under her belt, Bried created Kazoo for girls 5-12 who were interested in learning more about the real world and their place in it.

It’s working.

Kazoo, which boasts contributors including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jane Goodall and Ellen DeGeneres, is the first-ever children’s title to be named a National Magazine Award General Excellence winner. And it’s 100% reader-funded, joining the growing ranks of crowd-funded indies.

“About two-thirds of our Kickstarter backers were people who had never used Kickstarter before,” Bried told Dool. “We had more than 3,100 total backers, and I think of them as almost like our co-founders. We would not be here without those 3,100 people putting their faith in me, that I could make a magazine that would be worthy of their kids. So I feel such a great responsibility to them and to all of our subscribers to make a great magazine, to make it fun and something that the kids can learn from.”

Crowd-funding is just one approach to launching a successful indie. Creative technologist Mathieu Triay created and sold a typeface to fund his passion project, according to Stack’s Steve Watson. Visions Magazine is a literary science fiction title with an eclectic array of content are scientific subjects, inspired by Triay’s research into Penguin Publishing’s scientific label archives. The magazine is for sale in Stack at a fairly hefty ad-free sticker price and is enjoying a growing fan base.

So while magazines and their ads will forever be the iconic “chocolate and peanut butter” combination for many publishers, it’s not the only way. Ad-free models are working, especially when they can tap into the right audience. Have a passion of your own? There’s never been a better time to try a launch in print.