HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Light everywhere: The California Civic Data Coalition wants to make public datasets easier to crunch
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Nov. 3, 2011, noon

A publisher bets on The Onion to save his business — for real

The Onion’s print distribution is growing through franchising, and local publishers get to reap the ad revenue.

The career of Frank Mauran, owner of small Gaspee Publishing in Providence, R.I., is a parable of publishing’s hard times.

Print editions of The OnionIn the 1990s, he started up the Printing Equipment Guide, a biweekly publication for the publishing trade. “It’s been a hard slog,” Mauran said. “It’s a trade publication for what’s a shrinking industry.” How hard he won’t say, but there’s no guarantee the magazine will be around forever.

He attended a publishing conference in April, looking for a new idea, and caught a presentation by the CEO of America’s Finest News Source. “The Onion was delivering their content on a bunch of platforms,” Mauran recalled, including video, audio, social media, and cable television. “They said that they have print, as well. I was there with a fellow employee who’s been working with me for a long time on this other publication, and, you know, our ears perked up. There was nothing going on in Providence, and I thought, hey, I kind of know how to do that.”

Today, when the first issue hits the streets, Gaspee Publishing becomes the newest local franchisee of The Onion. Here’s the deal: Mauran’s company assumes all costs of printing and distributing the paper in Rhode Island and neighboring Bristol County, Mass., sells its own ads, and gets to keep the profits. The Onion retains total creative control of the content, including The A.V. Club, its for-realsies entertainment section.

I asked Mauran why he would start printing a newspaper now, in 2011, when he has a front-row seat on the industry’s free fall. It almost sounds like a premise for an Onion story.

“I think I can do better with this than with the publication that I have. The way the numbers work is a lot better,” he told me. “I don’t have any postage costs, and I can get much better ad rates. I’m hoping — at least I think I can get better ad rates. And I have a lot more potential advertisers,” he said. Gaspee can also sell local ads on The Onion’s website, which are displayed to people who live in the market.

The Onion logo“It’s very popular, I think, with young people in colleges, especially in this state, in this area,” he said. (Mauran consulted with his college-age children, he said.) “Plus, I don’t have to pay for a reporter or a newsroom. I pay a fee for The Onion, but it’s not an overwhelming one,” he said.

The Onion is now in 16 markets, more than doubling the number of print editions from this time last year, said Carrie Palmer, the paper’s director of franchising. She said there is still a strong demand for the print product (“like dialup, only slower”).

“That said, print media is not an easy business. It presents its own set of challenges and taking that on is not for everyone,” Palmer said. “The Onion thrives in communities with a young, smart, educated, and affluent population that also have a strong, local client base to support the publication. Print ads in the Onion are still great way for smaller, local businesses to gain exposure among a top-notch readership.”

The Onion started downsizing its print business a year ago, two decades after its first run at the University of Wisconsin, Madison — not by stopping the presses, but by franchising out the job. The move allows the company to focus on creating content without losing its physical footprint. And it’s appealing to publishers trying to sell ads, because The Onion already enjoys widespread brand recognition and virtually no competition.

All but two of the U.S. and Canadian print editions are local franchises; The Onion still operates directly in Milwaukee and New York.

H. Cuthbert Zweibel, The Onion’s ornery vice president of client relations, was not immediately available for comment.

POSTED     Nov. 3, 2011, noon
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Light everywhere: The California Civic Data Coalition wants to make public datasets easier to crunch
Journalists from rival outlets are pursuing the dream of “pluggable data,” partnering to build open-source tools to analyze California campaign finance and lobbying data.
Ebola Deeply builds on the lessons of single-subject news sites: A news operation with an expiration date
Following the blueprint of Syria Deeply, the new Ebola-focused site hopes to deliver context and coherence in covering the spread and treatment of the virus.
Who dat? In New Orleans, The Times-Picayune is making print a little more regular
The Times-Picayune was the most prominent example of a daily newspaper cutting print and home-delivery days. But as part of a big bet on football, it’s bringing Mondays back to subscribers — at least for the fall.
What to read next
1020
tweets
The newsonomics of the millennial moment
The new wave of news startups is aiming at a younger audience. But do legacy media companies have a chance at earning their attention?
803A mixed bag on apps: What The New York Times learned with NYT Opinion and NYT Now
The two apps were part of the paper’s plan to increase digital subscribers through smaller, targeted offerings. Now, with staff cutbacks on the way, one app is being shuttered and the other is being adjusted.
537Watching what happens: The New York Times is making a front-page bet on real-time aggregation
A new homepage feature called “Watching” offers readers a feed of headlines, tweets, and multimedia from around the web.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Newsmax
Grist
NewsTilt
Bloomberg
The Daily Show
Ars Technica
The Boston Globe
St. Louis Beacon
ESPN
New York
Crosscut
National Journal