It took all of 25 years, but the Onion, the gold standard of satirical newspapers, has completed its transition from college alternative weekly to global Web empire. It’s leaving ink and paper behind for good.
“It's sad to see a print edition no longer exist,” Mike McAvoy, president of Onion Inc., told Crain’s Chicago Business, “but it's important to see the Onion succeed.” Free print copies of the Onion had once been available in 17 cities, but as advertising revenue from those operations dried up, the paper started to outsource production, and the periodical eventually began to disappear.
In a statement to MediaBistro, McAvoy laid out the reasons for ending print contracts in the Onion’s last three physical markets (Providence, Milwaukee, and Chicago, where the company is headquartered), thereby shuttering the print edition altogether:
[W]e are very excited for the opportunities that come with prioritizing digital for even greater company growth. By adopting an all-digital approach, our writers are able to create even more one-of-a-kind comedy content that our readers love. Overall, we we will be able to cover more timely stories/topics, increase our video output, and become a better satirical representation of the current news media.
The brand’s solidified commitment to the Internet was underscored by a typically deadpan news story on the website: “Print Dead at 1,803,” reads the headline, followed by a heartfelt obituary for the “influential means of communication.” Toward the end of the article, print’s greatest achievements are listed, including the Magna Carta and “every single issue of the Onion ever printed.”
But as McAvoy hinted, the move is indicative not just of a medium sliding into obsolescence but the possibilities presented by new ones. The company has partnered with Amazon, for example, to produce a Instant Video pilot called Onion News Empire, starring Arrested Development’s Jeffrey Tambor, about a fictional team of journalists working at the Onion News Network.
Perhaps more eyebrow-raising is the advent of Onion Labs, a program spawned from the success of an Onion-crafted Microsoft campaign that advertised a new version of Internet Explorer as “The Browser You Loved to Hate.” Since then, they’ve helped Home Depot, Lenovo, 7-Up, 7-Eleven, Coca-Cola, Dove, MTV, Dodge, Orbitz, Clorox and YouTube—major brands they might simply have mocked in another era—to deliver funny sponsored content.
Hey, whatever keeps them up and running is fine by us. As long as they still find occasion to bite the hand that feeds them.
Photo by Valette Keller/Flickr