Columnists > From the Publisher

What ads add

And now a word about our sponsors

Issue: "Cloning: Double trouble," March 7, 1998

With our country teetering on the brink of a decision about bombing the daylights out of Saddam Hussein, is it crass and overly introspective of me to talk about something so mundane as advertising policies at WORLD magazine?

Yet the volume of mail we get about various ads in WORLD actually exceeds that we get on most substantive issues-including war with Iraq. You readers have strong opinions on lots of subjects, not least of which is the kind of advertising that fills our pages.

Except that advertising doesn't really fill our pages-compared to a lot of magazines you read. From WORLD's first issue in 1986, it's been our policy to make this a reader-driven magazine rather than advertiser-driven. Truth is, we didn't have much choice in the matter, since advertisers don't normally line up to buy space in brand-new magazines.

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Even now, with the lines getting a little longer every month, the ratio of revenue derived from advertising is much lower than in many other magazines. Newspapers, in fact, typically earn more than 80 percent of their revenue from ads, asking subscribers to provide the rest. For magazines, the ratio tends to be more even. For WORLD, during our first 12 years, less than 20 percent of our revenue has come from advertisers.

Here's the practical implication for you as a reader: On the one hand, without that 20 percent, we'd immediately have to add another $10-12 annually to your subscription price. On the other hand, if we can continue to find more of the right kind of advertisers, we should be able over the next few years to let those folks assume a higher and higher proportion of our publishing costs. You should benefit when renewal time comes around.

But what constitutes "the right kind of advertiser"? And how much "ad clutter" not only begins to offend you as a reader, but also begins to reach a point of diminishing returns for the advertisers themselves? Every periodical publisher struggles to answer those questions. And Christian publishers have criteria some secular publishers never dream of.

In our ads, we are concerned primarily about three things: the content of our ads, the tone of our ads, and the relationship with our advertisers.

Content. In our editorial pages, we pledge never to tell you something we do not absolutely believe to be true. In our ad pages, the commitment's a little different: In our ads, we pledge never to print something we know to be false.

The difference is justified because for the editorial pages we provide the staffing; with that goes primary responsibility. But we hold only secondary responsibility for the ad pages, since obviously we don't have the time or resources to check out first-hand all the products and services listed. Still, every single week we do reject ads simply because the products and services sound suspicious in terms of the truthfulness of their claims.

So, no, we don't agree with every last emphasis and nuance of all the ads. The ads are a busy marketplace where your sensitivities may be jostled about a bit while you determine what's valuable and what isn't. So let the buyer beware.

Tone. Especially because of several recent expressions of concern, WORLD is taking steps to inform all advertisers that when their products (especially books, videos, and tapes) take issue with other Christians, the ads must be respectful in tone. In other words, we'll leave room for disagreement-even vigorous disagreement. But inflammatory words-especially those like false and myth-when applied to other Christians, won't normally be allowed. And ads that tend to sound sensationalistic, making claims that "sound too good to be true," will always get a hard, second look.

Relationships. We have no cozy relationships with advertisers. Does it surprise you to know there are still Christian publishers and authors who write us to say, "Let me know the issue you're going to run a review of our book, and we'll buy an ad in that issue"? We regularly decline such arrangements. Any other deal-on-the-side, where you as a reader may not know all that's going on, is out of bounds.

So when you see ads in WORLD, consider them another part of the overall discussion-a few more pieces in the puzzle you're assembling that, when finished, is part of your overall worldview.

Advertising is, to be sure, part of the economic equation that makes a magazine like WORLD possible. But advertising is much more than dollars. Well handled, the ad pages also provide a service to you as a reader-a unique listing of availabilities in a combination you won't find anywhere else. Our continuing goal is to maximize the trust you can have in that service week after week.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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