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Even with a 50% drop in submissions, adding the standard $3 fee (seems standard) would have covered much of printing costs (and when I edited an indie mag, it would have more than covered our costs, too). At the university mag, we were relying mainly on funding from contests once the department pulled money -- thanks to one really good year -- but there's such a glut of contests that I don't think it's a very dependable line. It's a great way to push subscriptions and I'll enter contests sometimes just for kicks because I want a subscription. But there are so many magazines and so many choices and so many contests and no one can support them all. We need to find new ways to get people to support magazines, and have magazines support writers, I agree there. But I don't take much issue with the sub fee, for reasons above, and for the old saw about postage and all. I'd rather pay a few bucks, knowing it's going to a good cause, than mail anything, ever, or track submissions in Gmail.
I have to say that, in my experience, your calculations here are skewed. This is something we discussed a lot at a university-based magazine I worked for (will not mention, though the info can be easily found) and ultimately had to discard because of bureaucracy and red tape. We'd lost significant funding from the department and were struggling to keep afloat and continue paying writers; sub fees would have filled the gap that nothing else did, even if we'd seen a reduction. The alternative, for some established outlets, is to give it up, and though I don't work for them anymore, I'd hate to see an established, paying market disappear. There's enough of that going around. I can understand why sub fees feel unattractive, even unethical. But they made me, personally, more careful. I'd think, is this piece really ready? Am I ready to stake a couple dollars on that? In a few cases, it saved me time and trouble and preserved my chances. But I also only sub to magazines I like and read and want to support anyway. I'd rather that money go to, say, Hayden's Ferry than Starbucks, and in that vein, I also donated to Duotrope before they went to a pay model. I support the things I care about in a way that matters. In return, I like to be supported, which is why I'm also a fan of the Poetry Has Value project mentioned above -- even though I'm not a poet, I think there are messages there that all writers need to be thinking about.
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Apr 16, 2015