NEW YORK - The Onion’s top news, circa 2013: “Print Dead at 1,803.” On Tuesday, it helped put the nail in the coffin.
The satirical news site just agreed to sell a chunk of itself (as well as sister properties including ClickHole and The A.V. Club) to Spanish broadcaster Univision Communications. The reported price tag of about $200 million for a 40 percent stake in the Onion’s parent company values the whole enterprise in the range of $500 million.
To put that in perspective, it’s twice what Jeff Bezos paid for the Washington Post in 2013. You read that right: The Onion — whose top stories on Tuesday included “NCAA Investigating God For Giving Gifts To Athletes” and “Average Male 4,000% Less Effective In Fights Than They Imagine” — garnered a higher valuation than the Washington Post did. And the storied Financial Times isn’t worth all that much more, having agreed to sell itself last year to Japanese publisher Nikkei for $1.3 billion. The Boston Globe? Forget about it. The paper (and affiliated media assets) sold for a mere $70 million back in 2013.
The numbers make more sense though when you consider the eyeballs these different media properties attract. The Onion’s collection of sites draw in more than 25 million monthly unique users each month. The Financial Times has around 740,000 subscribers in print and online. The Washington Post hadn’t yet adopted a digital subscription model at the time of Bezos’ purchase, but weekday circulation stood under 500,000. The Globe was working with less than 250,000 including digital editions, at the time of its sale. On those grounds, perhaps the Onion is getting shortchanged.
But the bigger takeaway is the shift in readership preferences. The satirical news site represents a new kind of media. The onetime newspaper discontinued its print operations in late 2013 and focused its efforts on the digital side of its properties. The company’s focus on sarcastic humor, meanwhile, puts it in league with popular programming such as Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” setting it apart from the traditional news publishers whose shares have suffered lately:
In those respects, it’s easy to see the appeal for Univision, a broadcaster perhaps better known for its dramatic soap operas. Univision is trying to tap into the fickle millennial audience and nothing rings truer with that crowd than sarcasm. From The Onion’s perspective, teaming up with a bigger and better-funded media company will give it the resources needed to grow. Print may be dead but the jokes will live on.