Readers cry as The Onion cuts back on print publication

Following in the footsteps of other major news publications, satirical newspaper The Onion is scaling back its hard copy operations and placing more emphasis on its internet presence. This week, the final print versions of the paper will hit the streets in San Francisco and Los Angeles, two of the eight markets in which a hard copy of the paper is published. The two print editions, which had a combined circulation of 110,000 copies, simply were not able to generate the advertising revenue necessary to keep hard copy publication afloat.

This story echoes the problems faced by mainstream papers, which, over the past few months, have been suffering a slow, steady demise. This tale has, ironically, been a major topic in newspapers as print moguls have watched their fortunes evaporate and venerated publications like The Christian Science Monitor and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer have gone to internet-only editions.

However, as politicians and pundits have discussed subsidies, micropayments and other ways to prop up a dying industry, a significant, important portion of the print media has largely been ignored. Like their mainstream brethren, satirical newspapers, most notably The Onion, have also been suffering from a loss of revenue and increasingly high printing and distribution costs. In fact, as today's news demonstrates, the satirical news industry is facing a crisis of continued solvency.

Strangely enough, The Onion might have found a method that other print media can use to survive the age of the internet. With the regular release of its popular article collections, it continues to generate income from readers, even as its online edition is free. While the electronic version collects ad revenue, the hard copy edition is financed by reader dollars.

It's not hard to imagine newspapers selling cheap reprint collections of their articles on key stories, much like Life magazine used to sell photo collections, Entertainment Weekly sells movie retrospectives, or Time sells commemorative books. Cheap, attractive, and useful for armchair historians, these could be a handy way for traditional publications to consistently generate cash.

Years ago, before The Onion had an online component, I used to get hard copies of the paper from a friend who lived in Madison, Wisconsin. When the internet site debuted, I was overjoyed; finally, I could stop waiting months for the latest Onion articles. Better yet, I was able to easily send stories to friends, and could even search the archives for pieces that I had missed. Coupled with the emerging Onion News Network, it has enabled the satirical publication to maximize its use of the internet. With a continued advertising stream, it seems likely that the paper will be around for a long time to come!

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