Arts and culture publication to cease both in print and online next week.
Torontoist has learned that the local iteration of the A.V. Club, the arts and culture publication put out by the Onion, will be ceasing operations at the end of this month. The last print issue will be published next Thursday, July 26; website updates will cease one day later. This applies to the entire print publication: not just the local content, but the Toronto edition of the Onion in its entirety.
The A.V. Club started up in Toronto about 10 months ago—their launch party was September 29—as part of an expansion into a number of cities. At the time, the idea was to establish a network of local publications which would publish both online and in print, sharing content that was broadly applicable and publishing location-specific stories alongside. The local A.V. Clubs were, with one exception (in Milwaukee), franchise operations; the Toronto edition was run by TorStar, which also counts the Toronto Star and the Grid among its titles.
The news formally went out internally via a staff memo today, which stated that TorStar made the decision “due to economic pressures resulting in declining ad revenues.” We asked Bob Hepburn, director of communications for TorStar, whether this boded ill for other TorStar publications in the short term; he told us that this decision is “specific to the Onion, but it’s well-known that advertising revenues for many publications and broadcast outlets across North America are declining.”
Though hopes were high for the A.V. Club, Toronto’s edition may have fallen prey to a particularly tight media market, says editor (and former Torontoist contributor) John Semley. “I had a lot of support from the publisher and they worked really hard,” he told us by phone today. “Especially in a city like Toronto that is one of the most competitive media environments in North America, the idea of starting up a new alt-weekly and thinking it will be immediately a success, because there is an insatiable appetite for this kind of thing…it’s just not true. It’s hard to do in a year… Everyone at the Onion and everyone at TorStar worked as hard as they could to make it work.”
Toronto is hardly the only city to find itself in this situation: over recent months, other local installments of the A.V. Club have been gradually shutting down as well. This is perhaps another element to the closure: it’s not just advertising revenue that declined—the editorial concept of a network of city-based publications has been eroded. “Ann Arbor opened right before Toronto and it was only open for a couple of months,” Semley says, “then Denver went down a couple of months ago—that was one of the big ones.” Other closures followed, and in the end, “even if Toronto was doing super well…you’re kind of just the last leaf on the branch waiting to fall off.”
TorStar’s internal memo specifies that there will be no job losses due to the closure of the A.V. Club, but this is because the jobs in question weren’t on TorStar’s books to begin with. The editor’s salary, and support services such as copy editing, were paid for by the Onion. Semley tells us that he doesn’t know when the website will go offline, but he does not anticipate that archives (with the exception of articles that made it to the national edition) will be available on an ongoing basis.
Representatives from the Onion were not immediately available for comment.
This article originally misspelled the name of the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan; the error has now been corrected.