The Onion is one of the funniest, and ubiquitous sources of fake news around today. But there’s one part of the 21-year-old paper that’s not faux: The A.V. Club, which explores pop culture ephemera, along with music, television, and film reviews in a funny, irreverent manner.
This Christmas, the A.V. Club has released its first book, based on their listicle subsection Inventory, entitled Inventory: 16 Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls, 10 Great Songs Ruined By Saxophone, and 100 More Obsessively Specific Pop-Culture Lists, a title that really exemplifies the level of obsession the A.V. staff puts into their work. FishbowlNY spoke to A.V. Club editors Josh Modell and Keith Phipps about the book, the paper’s online audience, and plans for the techno-future of The Onion‘s cool culture guide.
FishbowlNY: How did you guys come up with the standard concept for Inventory?
Phipps: We were seeing the same kind of films and music appear on lists everywhere, and the A.V. Club wanted to get a little niche, a little stranger, and give an outlet for our storage of useless knowledge. The first list we ever did we probably wouldn’t do now, but it set the tone for being fairly down the rabbit hole of pop culture, which was a list of songs about people named Kim or Jim. We only did about five of them, and it kind of grew from there.
Modell: I think it was something people responded to… immediately online. People responded quickly and we took that as a challenge to make [the lists] bigger, stranger, and put a twist on each one. We put out ones that are more straight-forward, but we like the ones that come out a little bit strange. So we’d like to add a little twist, instead of “Great Songs About Driving” we’d do “Great Songs About Driving That End Tragically.”
FBNY: So with the lists, was it all the people at A.V. that got together to do this project, or just several staffers?
Phipps: For awhile we just wanted to do it one writer, one topic. But we figured out pretty quickly that they worked better as collaborations…with all our various full-time staff and freelancers, we realized they were too good of a resource to pass up. So now they’re done by putting out a call on various topics, and getting people’s suggestions and going from there.
Modell: I think there was something like 22 contributors to the book of varying degrees…A couple people just did one or two entries total, and some people did entire lists by themselves.
FBNY: Switching gears here a little: both The Onion and A.V. come out as a print version, but have more content online. And this year especially, you have really grown to use a multi-media aspect to reach an audience that maybe don’t live in some of the cities where you print. I noticed that for the Inventory book there was even a trailer online, which was pretty cool. What has been the reaction from users and readers about this new interface?
Modell: Well to answer the first part of your question, there is way, way, way more content on AVclub.com than there is in the paper. And if you consider the readers’ comments as that kind of interface, we have a really smart readership that comments like crazy.
Phipps: We’re now able to embed YouTube clips and videos. It really helps when talking about films and movies, which can get kind of theoretical, when we can show people exactly the songs and scenes we’re talking about.
FBNY: Does the Onion or A.V. Club have an application for the iPhone or an e-reader? Is this something you guys are looking towards doing next year?
Modell: You can read the Onion and A.V. club on your Kindle, both together. And there’s a great Onion iPhone app…there’s essentially 10,000 headlines in there and you flip through it like a microfiche player. It’s out and available. We’ve talked about doing an iPhone app for the A.V. Club, it’s something we’re looking forward to doing next year, but we’re sort of waiting for the “a-ha” moment that would make sense for A.V. On most smart phones you can go to mobile.avclub.cm and read, we’re very mobile ready.
Phipps: We wouldn’t want to do an app just to do an app.
FBNY: Looking forward to 2010, is there anything readers can expect from the A.V. club online?
Modell: We’re looking to have a lot more original video. We’ve done sort of Inventory pilots that are about five minutes long, which is essentially us sitting around a table, showing some clips and then talking about Inventories, essentially.
Phipps: We have a director who doesn’t make us look embarrassing, which is nice.
FBNY: It’s great, because lists work so well, inherently, with the whole Web 2.0…people being able to comment and add their own thoughts.
Modell: Yeah, it’s funny because not everything we do is bite-size, like Twitter. Some of the best Inventories we do are really long. But since we break them up into paragraphs that are numbered, people don’t think they’re that long. So we fool people into reading 5-6,000 words by breaking them up into smaller chunks.
Phipps: Yes, the lists are the honey we use to lure people into our long dissertations…
FBNY: Our final question has to do with the A.V. Club’s city-specific The Decider section…
Modell: Yeah we gave up the Decider name a couple months ago. I think we realized that what we were presenting was so close to what A.V. Club was. So, yeah, now we just call them A.V. Club New York, A.V. Club Chicago…
FBNY: Do you have any plans to use new technology to expand the A.V. club to different cities?
Modell: Not on the immediate horizon, but I think eventually we’d love to be everywhere. We have eight cities now that we’re keeping up with, but I wouldn’t be surprised if five years down the road there were 50.
Read More: The Onion A.V. Club