One of the highlights of traveling to major cities is spotting that iconic green newspaper bin on a sidewalk. Inside (if you’re lucky to get there before they’re gone) is a printed copy of The Onion, the satirical newspaper that most of America reads online.
That bin may soon be seen on a corner in your hometown, thanks to The Onion‘s new Onion Nation franchising program. If your life dream was to write for the publication, keep dreaming. Franchisees essentially buy the rights to sell The Onion in their city and are responsible for the advertising, marketing, printing and distribution. As the Onion Nation says, “Leave the writing to us.”
This is an interesting move in the world of digital and traditional news media. Here’s a publication that would never be as large as it is were it not for the Web, and it wants to expand its print properties. Meanwhile, real newspapers continue their steady declines in every facet of the business: circulation, staff, advertising, the number printed pages and even physical size. And most real newspapers still haven’t figured out how to use the Internet (well, at least). Onion Inc., meanwhile, has perfected its online and mobile experience.
Yet The Onion has a true chance at expanding its network into middle-market cities such as Richmond, Raleigh, Nashville and those of similar size. The audience is already in place, to the point that merely having The Onion available in a mid-size town will become news in and of itself (expect Twitpics of the green bins). The Onion could bring particular competition not only to traditional papers, but many of the throwaway advertorials that float around on the free magazine racks near the entrance of grocery stores. Hip, young organizations will no doubt want to advertise in a publication whose main demographic is ["the coveted"] age 18 to 35 group. Heck, it might even be an honor to get a cold call from an Onion ad rep.
Contentwise, The Onion has long been protective of keeping creation in a tight circle. Articles submitted by the general public are sent straight to the trash bin. They don’t accept resumes. For the most part, writing for The Onion is a matter of “If we want you, we’ll find you.” I could see The Onion‘s non-parody entertainment section, the A.V. Club, eventually being localized in cities where the franchising effort proves popular. This could be a matter of Onion Inc. hiring or purchasing a pre-established local entertainment site (in Richmond, our hometown, that could be a site like RVANews.com or Richmond.com).
It’ll be interesting to watch the potential spread of America’s Finest News Source. So far, the company’s only major gaffe has been its abysmal straight-to-video movie. But beyond that, this is a strong company with steady growth and a quality product that could become even bigger and better. And as someone who has studied comedy writing for years, I hope to see The Onion in Richmond very soon.