No joke: The Onion has ceased distribution in Indianapolis after local advertisers apparently failed to warm to the newspaper's brand of satire.
Less than a year after the newspapers first appeared around the city, the entrepreneurs who own the local franchise rights are collecting newspaper racks and winding down operations.
The principals in locally based Allium Midwest Media LLC, Joshua Schuler and Daniel Wale, did not respond to e-mails Friday morning, and a listed phone number was busy. Both men are veterans of local media sales: Schuler is a former director of sales and marketing for Nuvo. Wale served as Internet sales manager for The Indianapolis Star as late as 2006.
The local version of The Onion was received more warmly by readers than by advertisers, said Ted Fleischaker, publisher of free-circulation newspapers Up Down Town and The Word.
Fleischaker said he exchanged e-mails with Wale in which the Allium principal blamed the operation's demise on uncomfortably low revenue caused by a lack of "consistent advertiser engagement."
"Parody is fun once in awhile, but in pretty staid and tell-it-like-it-is Indianapolis, I never could see it working long term," Fleischaker said.
Allium launched local distribution of The Onion in February in coffee shops, bars and corner newspaper boxes in partnership with Mishawaka-based Schurz Communications LLC.
The original plan called for including a locally oriented version of The A.V. Club, a non-satirical sister publication covering entertainment and pop culture, within the national newspaper. (The Onion does not cede any control of its "news" coverage to franchisees.)
But the local entertainment listings and concert previews disappeared from the local edition of the newspaper a few weeks ago, suggesting the operation was in trouble. The last edition, which remains in some newsstands, is dated Aug. 23.
It was not clear whether Allium is shutting down entirely. The company's franchise agreement with The Onion gave it distribution rights to 11 cities in eight states.
Officials at Onion Inc. headquarters in Chicago could not be reached Friday.
The company for years has circulated papers in big cities including New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington, D.C. The company has been adding markets in an effort to boost its free print circulation from about 400,000 to 500,000 newspapers.
The Onion started in 1988 as a weekly newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Today, The Onion and The A.V. Club claim an audience of about 2 million weekly print readers and 10 million monthly online readers.