New Skin for the Onion

The parody newspaper redesigns and removes the pay wall on its archives, counting on advertisements and deep links from blogs to drive revenue and traffic.

Soon, a whole crop of uninitiated readers will discover "Americas Finest News Source" on the Web. As they scroll past obscene headlines, absurd Presidential speeches, and outrageous opinion polls with mounting confusion, they will probably miss one simple fact.

Its a joke.

Thats because, two weeks ago, venerable parody newspaper the Onionlaunched a brave "straight man" redesign of its Web site, which reaches 1.5 million weekly readers. At the same time, the paper dropped its paid online subscription service, dramatically opening nine years of Onion archives for free.

The redesign and relaunch should be scrutinized by Web designers and publishers around the country for several reasons. Publishers should take note of the Onions approach to generating more ad revenue. Designers should pay attention to the new design, which includes much more space for ads and walks a fine line between content and clutter.

"We try to do anything we can to please our advertisers at the expense of our readers," managing editor Peter Koechley said in the Onions trademark deadpan tone. "Weve opened up nine years of archives for the unwashed masses to read, and that presents us with exponentially more places to put ads."

Those ads reach every publishers dream demographic: 42 percent of the readers are aged 21 to 34, 65 percent are men, and the overall readership packs a whopping $75,000 median household income, according to the Onion.

That demographic, and the amount of new pages available for ads, sent sponsors like Guinness Beer, Comedy Central, and Nokia scrambling to buy ad space. On the new site, blinking Flash animations, full-screen pop-ups, and advertiser logos cozy up with fake news, competing for the attentions of the Onions audience.

Those new ads are financing the free archives.

"Users on the Web are used to things being free, and especially for something like the Onion," said Web consultant Darren Chan, who edits the Web design blog for Weblogs Inc.Chan recalled the Onions short-lived attempt to offer a "Premium Onion" subscription service that made readers pay for archived material.