Whether it’s making feature films very quickly or developing a dedicated advertising unit, Funny or Die is constantly spawning new comedic tentacles. The online humor depot’s latest move involves tearing down the paywall for its online magazine, The Occasonal, starting with the publication’s tech issue.
During the first six installments of the bimonthly publication, issues went for $3.99 each and $9.99 for a yearly subscription. Starting with the tech issue--which features Kristen Schaal and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and hits online newsstands on May 21--the whole catalog will be available for anyone who wants to lay eyes on it.
“You can never go from free to subscription,” says Dick Glover, CEO of Funny or Die. “We figured we would test the subscription model first. That’s a tough business and, because we love the product we’ve created and want as many people as possible to experience it, we decided to move from pay to free.”
Glover has some personal experience with this pattern. In his previous position at ESPN, he helped create the company’s online fantasy games, which were pay-only for a time before they went free. The result was millions more sports fans engaging with ESPN--a phenomenon Funny or Die would no doubt love to duplicate for its legion of comedy fans.
The Occasional was born in spring of 2012 with very little idea of exactly what it would be. The staff at Funny or Die wanted to create tablet-only comedic content, and make fun of the magazine format, but there was little mandate for the material beyond those loose guidelines.
“One of our goals in making The Occasional was making something that didn’t exist anywhere else--to create a completely new forum to tell jokes,” says Dan Abramson, editor in chief of the tablet magazine. “When we first started, it was to build these very detailed, interactive pieces that took advantage of the iPad’s functionality. We still do those, but we’ve cut down and are a lot smarter about how we sprinkle them in. If every article involved 'feel this’ and 'rub that,' it would be taxing and filled with accidental innuendo. We found another way to make our mark was to take advantage of the self-important tone of many magazines.”
Editorial staff at the magazine has not exactly been hurting for tropes to make fun of in the magazine world. Ideas such as Funny or Die’s take on a Spring Fashion Preview or a guide to Sexy Flag Day easily found willing contributors in the comedy world. The latest dig at the world of periodicals arrives in the form of The Occasional’s first free issue--which focuses on the kind of occasionally breathless tech coverage practiced by certain magazines we’ve heard of.
“There’s a lot to cover in tech--everything from apps to life in the future--and we found we could get the most mileage from it and write original jokes that won’t seem stale if someone reads this in a year,” says Abramson. “I’d love to tell you it was a calculated decision, timed to match the coverage of things like Google Glass and Apple’s [Worldwide Developers Conference], but really it just came from making a list of potential themes and choosing whichever one we could make the most jokes about.” He adds, “We came very close to making a Hunks Issue, which is obviously timeless and will see the light of day at some point.”
Preview the tech issue in the slide show above.